Renown dietitian Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM joined us in Perth recently to launch LiveLighter for Families and was the keynote speaker at the 23rd WASCA Conference and Expo. Our communications manager, Elizabeth Palmer, chatted with Dr Stanton about the importance of being healthy as a family…
Thanks for coming over today and helping to launch LiveLighter for Families (LLFF).
Rosemary Stanton: My pleasure.
I’m going to start with a bit of a loaded question, 60 Minutes style. What do you think of the LLFF section of the website?
RS: My first joyous response was that it didn’t sound preachy. It sounded as if it had lots of good ideas. People have done research in the past and found that it’s not cooking that people don’t like, it’s having to decide what to have.
I thought it was nice and crisp, the recipes looked healthy and easy, and I actually thought that people like some of my many grandchildren could cook these things.
I’m very much in favour of children cooking. It’s always been my experience that children love to cook, and they want to cook, and very often people are in such a hurry – and it does take more time, initially – that they don’t want to let children cook. I could see some really nice quick things on the website. It looked fresh and nice, and not too complicated.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to get families to look at the content and learn from it?
RS: I think basically families need to have a philosophy that when it’s dinner time they all go to the kitchen. We had five teenagers at home and I was a busy working woman and my husband was a busy working man. So when it was meal time, everyone expected to help and you had to take turns. We all came together in the kitchen. I see that as something that’s really important. That families get to do things together.
I’ve been an ambassador for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program and evaluation from that program shows that when children get involved with food they want to teach their fathers how to prepare food and it becomes a bonding thing. I think involving families is really important.
We often hear that this generation will be the first to live shorter lives than the previous generation. Do you think that this generation of children have the knowledge and practical skills to help them to become healthy adults and perhaps prevent this from happening?
RS: Well I worry very much about this and that’s why we need programs like LiveLighter for Families, and why we need garden programs. I think I now have collected 28 studies that show children who are exposed to a garden have much better eating habits and are more likely to eat vegetables. And that then leads to family harmony and other advantages.
I think that children should also learn at school about the problems of soft drinks, and the environmental problems of the plastic bottles they come in. However, I think we’ll need a big effort to give children enough skills so they adopt healthier habits than we’re seeing at present.
LLFF encourages families to involve children in forming healthy habits when it comes to food and nutrition and that includes taking them to the shops. With so much marketing aimed at kids, how can parents overcome pester power?
RS: Kids like famers’ markets – if there’s one around that’s a good way. Even if you don’t do all your shopping there, markets can help get them involved with food.
It’s also good to take them to the outside [edge] sections of the supermarket and give them responsibility for making some choices. You can say, ‘How about you choose what vegetable we’re going to have tonight, or what we’re going to buy in the fruit section, but I’ll make the choices in these other aisles’. And just skip some aisles altogether! It’s important to give them the opportunity to have a say in choosing healthy foods.
Being a grandparent, how do you try and be a positive role model for your grandkids?
RS: I think there are cases where parents don’t find it convenient to let their children learn to cook, but once they know how to cook they’re very pleased to have them cook some meals. So I think other people in the family [can help], and I think it’s a role that grandparents can play.
Do you feel that time and cost are considered barriers when it comes to providing healthy food for the family?
RS: Oh absolutely. On the flight over here I was watching a documentary. One woman said she eats fast food three times a day because it doesn’t need any preparation, it doesn’t have any dishes to wash, and it’s cheap. And I thought, well, they’re reasons why a woman in her 20s might favour fast foods. I think we’ve got to the stage where we’re all in such a hurry to get back to our ‘screens’ that we don’t want to spend the time thinking about food. And so much stuff comes in packets that people just don’t know how to prepare many foods. It’s happened because we’ve given food a lowly place in our lives.
With the changes in food and technology, would you give your grandchildren the same nutrition advice you gave your children a generation ago?
RS: I try – and that probably makes me sound like an old fogey I suppose, but things were actually very different back then. When I had five teenagers at home, making lunch was a huge chore, because my son used to take five sandwiches to school for lunch! The kids always took lots of sandwiches and fruit. My high school aged grandchildren only take one sandwich which means they’re always looking for extras. There are problems with most of the extras that come in packets.
We also think children must have lots of variety but there’s no reason why a child who’s very active can’t just have more of the same. The constant consumption of packaged snacks is a huge problem.
So who should we hold accountable for children’s health? Is it solely the role of the parents, as the media would have us believe?
RS: No. Parents are set-upon by very clever marketing people. Some of these people are paid about four times what those who care for our children get. These highly paid, highly skilled marketing people’s job is to influence children to pester their parents to buy particular products. That is grossly unfair, especially as there are virtually no restrictions on promoting junk foods to kids.
So although parents have the prime responsibility, I think we should make things easier for parents. That is governments’ responsibility and governments at the moment have not taken responsibility for helping parents. Instead we have people who are hindering parents who want to do the right thing.
The food industry should take more responsibility – and some sections do – but many sections of the food industry just see children as fair game for marketers. I wouldn’t care if people ate junk food every now and then, but a study in Victoria a few years ago found that 93 per cent of children had junk food in their lunchbox and the average number of junk foods they had was three! How sad that it’s now ‘normal’ for kids to have this sort of food. The desire for instant gratification is a core problem, the idea that if you want it, you should have it now.
I think we also need more from our sporting heroes. Many currently run around with slogans all over them for fast food and junk food. They need to be more responsible, because they’re role models for many kids. So a whole range of people need to take more responsibility.
One final question Rosemary. What can health professionals do to assist with helping families to be healthier?
RS: You’re making a good start with the LiveLighter program and there are also some other good programs. I think GPs, dentists and schools can do a lot to help. I think we all need to lobby much harder. An absence of lobbying is seen as acquiescence to the status quo. The public think that if health professionals aren’t bothering to complain, there can’t really be anything wrong with the current system.
We have to write a lot of letters, we have to get some tame politicians who are interested and get them to put up particular bills. A lot of it ends up in dead-ends and that can be demoralising, but we have to start making a fuss. And whether you like That Sugar Film (and I didn’t, especially) but it did have some good aspects, and helps put nutrition issues on the agenda.
We all agree on certain things, for example, sweetened drinks. If we could just get sweetened drinks out of children’s lives, that would be good. I was thrilled also to see Mexico put a tax on their sugary drinks and their soft drink consumption has gone down quite dramatically, quite quickly, so we really have to push for those sorts of things.
We’ve got to keep at our lobbying for changes. It’s particularly important for groups like the Heart Foundation, the Cancer Council, the Australian Medical Association, the Dietitians Association of Australia and the Public Health Association, who have very good standing in the government’s eyes, to keep at governments. These groups can’t be ignored.
It’s also really important to avoid conflicts of interest because that allows people to rubbish you. We really need to make sure we’re squeaky clean and not hindered by conflict of interest.
Thank you Rosemary!