Parent shaming about lunch boxes needs to stop

The beginning of each school term is always marked by the articles offering advice to parents about how to make healthy lunch boxes, and this is now ever more present as messaging continues throughout the year.

Well-meaning experts extend tips on how to pack more protein and vegetables and less sodium, sugar and saturated fats. And, for the most part, these articles have sound advice. But this conversation is always a one-way conversation. Advice is directed at parents, putting all blame on their shoulders. At the same time, we are ignoring the influence Big Food has on what goes in the shopping trolley.

Parents want the best for their children. No parent wants to set their kid on the path of obesity and towards a future of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and increased risk of twelve different types of cancer. Yet 1 in 4 Aussie kids is above a healthy weight,.

Supermarkets employ sophisticated techniques to ‘nudge’ us to buy the foods that provide them the highest profit. Research in Australia has shown that the marketing of junk food in supermarkets is greater in disadvantaged suburbs, areas where greater proportions of the community are above a healthy weight.

At the beginning of this term, I was confronted by the latest ‘back to school’ promotion at my local supermarket. Catalogues, signage and large displays in store, all point towards shelves and shelves of packaged sodium, saturated fat and sugar. As usual, this promotion was heavy on discretionary food and combined with sale prices and ‘great deal’ multi packs most unsuspecting parents would be fooled.

Is it any surprise that parents are packing these foods in the school bags? The supermarket literally tells us this is what a lunch should contain. Parents with limited time and food education need to be supported to make changes. Healthy choices shouldn’t be so hard to pick.

We’re quick to pull out the individual responsibility card, but where is the corporate responsibility for the foods they are pushing on us? Why is it just the consumer that bears the burden?

It would take millions of dollars to counter the marketing budgets of food companies and their efforts to push their highly processed food on to kids. Health Star Ratings are one way for parents to make better choices, but with only 28 per cent of food on sale displaying stars we need the system to be mandatory for it to be helpful to consumers. Currently, as a nation, we are spending next to nothing to counter the marketing spin and educate our communities on what a balanced diet and lunchbox looks like.

The deck is stacked against parents, and we need to work together as a community to better support children. Regulation to restrict junk food marketing to kids would be a great first step towards a healthier Australia.

Written by Alice Pryor, Parents’ Voice Campaigns Manager

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