Charities have issued a stark warning to the Government that today’s children are feeling under increasing pressure to be fat owing to the steady diet of images they are force-fed by the media. ‘Children only need to open a magazine or switch on their television sets to be bombarded with so-called ‘positive’ images of chubby kids,’ said Victoria Reason of Save the Children. ‘The idea that obesity holds the key to commercial success, self-worth and popularity is being rammed down their throats everywhere they look. But one look at these images will tell you that they are pedalling an ideal most children can never hope to attain. Not on only three meals a day.’
Campaigners say that the worrying trend has led to a big increase in young girls and boys logging on to ‘pro-curvy’ websites where they can swap tips on how to add calories to their meals and cut PE classes at school, as well as buy posters of fat role models which are ruthlessly marketed as ‘an essential addition to any child’s bedroom wall, and a tasty after-dinner snack’. Doctors have also noted a rise in cases of children with pro-eating disorders, with many youngsters lying to friends and family about how much they’ve eaten to ‘talk up’ their obesity.
Patricia Airey, mother of ten-year-old Rainbow, backs Save the Children’s campaign. ‘I’m forever telling Rainbow that she’s perfect just as she is, but she’s always looking at herself in the mirror and complaining about being too thin. She keeps asking when her muffin tops and love handles are going to develop. It breaks my heart. Kids grow out so fast these days.’
‘If I’m honest, though,’ she went on, ‘Rainbow may be a bit on the slim side, but she doesn’t listen when I tell her it’s what’s on the inside that counts. ‘All that’s on the inside is a full English breakfast, two pasties, four packets of crisps and a king-size mars bar,’ she shouts at me, ‘and that’s just not enough these days, mum!’ I wish I had the money to give her the start in life she deserves.’
But Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls was unapologetic about the Government’s drive to bulk up the younger generation. ‘The Americans are way out in front, even when we’re stood shoulder-to-shoulder, so we’ve got a lot of ground to make up. And there’s no point being top of the European league table for teenage pregnancies if the children we’re bringing into the world are only normally proportioned,’ he said today at the launch of a new scheme allowing teenage schoolchildren to exchange contraceptives for cake.