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Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Yano — Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Summer fat camps aren’t the answer

Posted on 25th July, 2013 | filed under Featured, Well Being


There are better ways to keep our children fit over the summer holidays than sending them to a fat camp, says Ursula Hirschkorn

When I was growing up in the 1970s I don’t think I gave my parents that much cause to worry. It wasn’t that I was an angel, it’s simply that parents hadn’t turned fretting about their offspring into the Olympic sport it seems to have become today. I would ride my bike around the roads where I lived from the tender age of seven without my mother turning a hair. Sure, I had the occasional accident, but that wasn’t enough for my parents to start locking me up in front of the TV for my own safety.

Equally, when I was little, the few pounds you put on during a summer of intensive ice-cream eating was called puppy fat and soon dissolved under the harsh regime of PE and kiss chase in the playground once we were back at school. There was certainly no mention of baby boot camps where children were sent to trim the fat.

Which is why I was dismayed to hear about the advent of a summer fat camp from weight management specialist MoreLife, designed to keep kids fit over the holidays. Not least because I think one of the most memorable pleasures of my summer holidays was lazing around scoffing luxuriantly swirled Mr Whippy ice-cream cones.

I’m not sure at what point parents decided it was imperative to manage their children’s lives in such minute detail. Perhaps it’s down to mothers being older and accustomed to managing recalcitrant teams of staff – they simply apply the same strategies to their offspring. Maybe baby boot camp is an infant version of the corporate bonding weekend – and an equally horrifying prospect.

Or perhaps it is because children’s lives have transformed immeasurably from those we led in our youth. While I am usually loath to apply this logic as it reminds me too much of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch, where each vies to have had the hardest upbringing, things genuinely were different back then.

There were very few television shows and no computer games, until the advent of Pong, which, as a black and white version of tennis didn’t have quite the same appeal as the Xbox Kinect. This meant we had to create our own entertainment and invariably this was a lot more active than slumping on the sofa. I still recall the hours I spent recreating show jumping courses in my garden and hopping over them on my imaginary pony. While I can understand this type of amusement would hardly compete with a PlayStation, I didn’t half have toned legs after a summer of re-enacting Hickstead day after day.

The thing is, my parents never felt the need to intervene. They never banned any foods – in fact, our diet was pretty rubbish with lots of Findus frozen pancakes, Arctic Roll and Angel Delight (for which I still have a strange fondness). But it was home-defrosted at least. We never ate fast food – I don’t think I had a McDonald’s until I was in my late teens – and takeaways were confined to the odd Friday-night fish and chips or a Chinese for a special treat. Sweets and crisps were rationed, not out of concern for my waistline, but because my disposable income was limited. On about 20p a week pocket money I could hardly go wild in the aisles of our local corner shop, so I had to eke out my 1/4lb of sweets over the week.

While I am aware that it is impossible to turn back time, maybe instead of sending our kids off to fat camp, we could take a leaf or two out of our parents’ book. For starters we could switch off the TV (withstand the inevitable whining) and, you never know, our children might just create their own, possibly mildly dangerous, undoubtedly messy, but probably quite active, entertainment.

Step two could be introducing 1970s-style pocket money. In other words, so little than it buys them virtually nothing to rot their teeth or expand their belly with. Again there will be complaints, but that is what parents are for, to absorb the moaning for their children’s own good, not silence it with endless indulgence.

I suspect that if we parents simply chilled out and let our kids get on with it, and stopped throwing money at them to keep them quiet, the problem of childhood obesity would begin melting away along with the need for kiddie boot camps.

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Summer fat camps aren’t the answer was posted on 25th July, 2013 by Ursula Hirschkorn under Featured, Well Being

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Ursula Hirschkorn

About the author: Ursula Hirschkorn

While I have rather more years of experience of writing for magazines and newspapers than I might like to admit, I suspect that my most recent challenge of attempting to bring up four little boys qualifies me far more than any journalistic achievements to pontificate on child rearing. That said my years of contributing to titles as diverse as The Daily Mail, Parentdish, The Independent, NHS Choices, Conde Nast Bride, Woman, Ready for Ten and Made for Mums, has at least gifted me the ability to string a sentence or two together. I have also graced the GMTV sofa and held forth during many a radio debate on LBC and BBC Five Live, proving I can talk as well as write.
  • Mummy Tries

    Lovely piece. Unfortunately too many parents have bought into the idea that money will buy their kids happiness, and that they need to be locked up 24/7 to protect them from the bogey man. I totally agree – a bit more of an outdoors lifestyle and a bit less TV watching and video game playing surely wouldn’t do the kids any harm…

  • Toddling Around

    Your reminiscing sounds very familiar to me too. Happy memories. Mobile phones offer kids a bit more freedom because they can regularly check in but I think there’s a sense of irresponsible parenting if kids are left to their own devices for too long without being ‘monitored’. I hope I don’t follow this mindset because it doesn’t allow them to grow and learn. Yet, I can’t help thinking ‘what if…’.