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Are our kids being brainwashed to eat unhealthily?

28th July 2014

Are our kids being brainwashed to eat unhealthily?Junk-food adverts are heavily restricted during children’s television shows, but many feel enough isn’t being done to limit exposure to them.

Campaigners from Action on Junk Food Marketing have proposed a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm, as their analysis of over 750 adverts during popular shows such as The X Factor and The Simpsons found that one in ten promoted a fast food restaurant, junk food or some kind of confectionery.

Although there are currently laws in place to protect children from targeted advertising, they only cover specific children’s TV shows that are broadcast much earlier in the day. However Action on Junk Food Marketing point out that children’s TV viewing peaks at 8pm, leaving them very susceptible to the influence these adverts can have.

The Children’s Food Campaign, a member of Action on Junk Food Marketing, have gone further in their criticism and voiced concerns about the content of the actual TV shows, noting that children are being bombarded with images of unhealthy food on a daily basis through their favourite cartoons and programmes.

A team at the University of Limerick found that 48% of foods appearing in children’s TV shows were sweets, chocolate, or classifiable as junk food, while drinks with a high sugar content made up a quarter of all liquids. This ranged from children being shown heading to a fast food shop after school to children consuming snacks and sweets throughout the day, all while remaining thin, happy and healthy: this, they believe, sends a bad message to young minds.

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, notes that all of this food is being consumed without consequence, without any mention of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other issues that stem from eating such an unhealthy diet. He feels they should be presenting a positive food message to their viewers to encourage youngsters to eat a more balanced diet.

However, in this age of modern technology, kids are being presented with images of junk food and unhealthy eating habits everywhere they turn. As groups continue to put pressure on the government to create a solution, there remains only one sure-fire way to keep kids away from junk food adverts, and that’s to get them outside playing in the TV-free fresh air.

Along with the huge fitness benefits to be gained from outdoor play in public and school playgrounds, kids learn to socialise more, make friends and can easily soak up plenty of sun’s vitamin D bounty. It’s the perfect way to help them get active and it’s not just for kids either. Outdoor fitness gyms and play areas are great for teens and adults too, so inspiring your youngster to get into this healthier habit can help them sustain a lifelong passion for exercise.

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Obesity costs NHS over £200m in Scotland

22nd July 2014

Obesity costs NHS over £200m in ScotlandThe recent news that obesity and diabetes drugs and treatment has cost NHS Scotland a staggering £230 million over the last three years hammers home the scale of the UK’s obesity crisis. And, as front line fitness evangelists we felt this needed some additional coverage, just in case the need for more places to go to get fit for free needed underlining any more.

For a number of years, the UK’s growing obesity problem has been the focus of a huge range of think tanks, research teams and debates within the media. The UK is rapidly following in America’s footsteps and this shocking statistic shows very clearly just how quickly rates of obesity and obesity-related illnesses are rising in Scotland.

This latest news also came with the worrying statistic that nearly a quarter of a million Scots now have diabetes – roughly 5% of the entire population, with a majority of sufferers having type 2 diabetes. This illness has strong links with obesity, as anyone who has a higher than recommended BMI is up to 80 times more likely to develop it.

This amount of money may sound shocking, but the fact is that the true cost of obesity is likely to be far higher and is very difficult to pin down. Days off work due to ill health cost the economy dearly, along with the strain on public funding for those on long-term sick leave or those needing costly treatment because they have fallen into the obesity trap.

Because this issue has been so thoroughly debated and discussed for years in the media we are all well aware of how to prevent ourselves from becoming overweight – a healthy diet and regular exercise. Despite this, the nation is still piling on the pounds.

Many leading health organisations agree that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise several times a week, along with cutting out food high in sugar and saturated fat, can do wonders for the waistline. With this in mind, every school, local authority and business has an obligation to join the fight against fat and ensure that pupils, constituents and workers have access to playgrounds and exercise equipment so they can stay fit and active.

From children through to senior citizens, everyone should have access to the right fitness facilities to help them lead a healthy lifestyle – something that will benefit the whole of the UK in the long term.

It’s clear that anyone struggling to maintain a healthy weight can’t go it alone, but with access to the right play equipment, play areas, and outdoor gyms we can turn this around – it isn’t too late to save the nation.

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Table Tennis YouTube Channel is 4th largest of all Olympic sports

17th July 2014

Table Tennis YouTube Channel is 4th largest of all Olympic sportsWith the growing popularity of table tennis as a competitive sport, the news that the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is teaming up with Rightster is sure to delight fans from across the globe.

It may not look like the ITTF needs the boost with its YouTube channel boasting 26 million views and 55,000 subscribers, making it the fourth largest of any Olympic sport. However, Rightster founder and chief executive, Charlie Muirhead, believes this move will make the site even bigger and help grow the popularity of the sport even further.

Rightster is a global video distribution firm that already has sports such as the Australian Football League on their books. Rightster aims to help the ITTF boost their reach and maximise their exposure, something that the federation hopes will lead to increased revenue through advertising and sponsorship deals.

Steve Dainton, the ITTF’s marketing director, is also extremely excited about the prospect of bringing table tennis to a wider audience with the help of Rightster, stating “we hope Rightster can now use their expertise to take our channel to the next level”.

The site already has such a big following thanks to the huge variety of content it offers fans of the sport. From the latest professional matches through to videos showing how to nail the coolest trick shots, it’s clear to see why it’s so high in the popularity stakes.

The international appeal comes from the fact that the website covers matches across the world and helps fans keep up to date with the latest hits, slips and tricks from big events such as the Olympic Games, through to junior and cadet matches in Korea and Hong Kong.

Although many viewers head to the site for the excitement of the game, some go in search of advice that will help them become the number one table tennis player in their school, club or region. The site is happy to oblige, showing viewers how to improve their game and featuring interviews from some top players.

It also provides a social element for table tennis fans to discuss the latest matches and breaking news through the discussion forums.

This latest pairing shows just how popular the sport is becoming, and with the ITTF YouTube channels’ popularity and Rightsers knack for creating targeted content, it’s sure to be a real hit with the fans.

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Battling dementia with daily fitness

17th July 2014

Battling dementia with daily fitness

Terry Pratchett, much loved fantasy author of the Discworld series of books and currently one of the UK’s most famous sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease, has, for the first time ever, had to pull out of a personal appearance due to ill health. He was due to be the guest of honour in Manchester in August at the International Discworld Convention. But he admits that despite fighting the illness for a very long time, his Alzheimer’s has ‘caught up with him’.

Pratchett is a long-time sufferer of the condition and has been a fierce campaigner for Alzheimer’s and dementia-related research ever since his diagnosis seven years ago. Despite the fact that he has continued writing many well-received titles since then, pulling out of an appearance for the first time was clearly necessary and highlights the very scary experience of living with dementia.

The stark reality is that 44 million people across the globe currently have some form of dementia: a number that is expected to rise to a staggering 135 million by 2050. It isn’t clear what causes Alzheimer’s and other related illnesses either, although specific genes can heighten the risk of developing certain forms of dementia.

Dementia can affect people in a variety of ways, ranging from short- and long-term memory loss to personality changes and the inability to complete simple day-to-day tasks. It robs even the most fertile of imaginations, and as a long-term illness it often progresses slowly before taking hold. All of this is understandably distressing for both the sufferer and their relatives, and with such shocking statistics it’s clear that we all need to be concerned.

Scientists have spent years researching different ways to predict the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Recent studies have actually found a way of identifying a set of proteins in the blood that can indicate the start of dementia with 87% accuracy. However, this research is still very much in its infancy and, although early diagnosis is important, it’s still not a cure.

The main focus of the medical community for delaying the effects of dementia is around a healthy lifestyle; an extensive 35-year study at Cardiff University has backed up the growing theory that exercise can significantly reduce a person’s susceptibility to dementia. It found that regular exercise, from as little as three times a week, stops the brain from shrinking and, therefore, limits the damage done to the hippocampus – essentially the brain’s memory hub.

Those in the study who engaged in regular exercise and were non-smokers with low body weight, who had a healthy diet and a low alcohol intake, had a 60% reduced risk of dementia, with exercise being identified as the strongest factor in the study.

Here at Caloo we are keen to stress how helpful exercise can be to people of all ages, levels of fitness and health. Dementia can strike any of us down; if even the great and imaginative mind of Terry Pratchett can be struck down by this limiting illness, then this should be a wake-up call to all of us to be more active and put prevention at the top of our weekly routine.

At Caloo we are doing our bit to encourage an active lifestyle for all those around us. With our huge range of outdoor fitness equipment, outdoor gyms and exercise parks we can help businesses, local authorities, schools and public institutions that wish to prioritise the health and well-being of those in their care or responsibility. Working out in the great outdoors is also fun way to get a daily dose of vitamin D and, as research suggests, give your brain the tools it needs to stave off this incredibly cruel illness.

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Breaking the curse of the yo-yo diet

23rd June 2014

Breaking the curse of the yo-yo dietEveryone loves a success story. There is nothing more heart-warming, if you are a dieter, than to see transformational before and after photos of those who have achieved weight loss goals and to think ‘wow, how did they do that?’. Yo-yo dieters in particular – so named because they take weight off and then put it back on again time and time again – can often look for sources of inspiration in an attempt to hit their own targets. What these photos don’t tell, however, is what can often happen after the initial heroic weight loss is achieved.

Yo-yo dieters suffer from an age-old problem, temporarily changing their habits to achieve a goal rather than changing their lifestyle to succeed in it. Once the yo-yo dieter’s goal is achieved, they will relax, go back to old habits and – not surprisingly – the weight is likely to pile back on.

No better is this demonstrated than in the world of the celebrity dieter. Perhaps the most famous of all is Oprah Winfrey who has had a long, often highly public battle, to keep on top of her weight aspirations. At times she has looked incredibly slim and yet within a relatively short space of time could be pictured again looking, well, distinctly puffy. And this doesn’t appear simply to be a ploy to out-manoeuvre the paparazzi – rather it reflects, and essentially documents, a long term struggle with self-image.

The media love to plaster pictures of celebrities going through such personal battles, and there is no shortage of articles in magazines about the latest fad diet. All this is much to the joy of the dieting industry, which is reportedly worth over £1 billion in the UK alone, and $60 billion in the US. According to research from Mintel, foods with a weight control claim are on the increase as are foods labelled as variations of ‘low fat’.

The causes for yo-yo dieting are as varied as the number of calories found within the average chocolate bar (148 in case you were wondering!), but in essence they can be boiled down to good old human nature. Some diets can be so extreme that they may reward the dieter with initial weight loss and a sense of success; however, as they can’t be sustained once a normal eating pattern is reintroduced, the pounds pile back on – often causing depression and anxiety. And so the cycle is established.

Despite the variations of fad diets that have arisen over the years, experts in the field of sustained weight loss have remained fairly unchanged in their belief that a sensible combination of diet and exercise is key. The NHS in England has said any weight-management programmes should tackle diet, physical activity and a change in behaviour.

It can be simple to integrate small changes into a daily routine – walking the kids to school, or taking the stairs rather than the lift, can help. Many parks these days have outdoor fitness equipment installed in them, and using them instead of your hardly-ever-used gym membership, can be a great way to get some vitamin D as well as enjoy a fun outdoor workout.

Small changes such as regular outdoor fitness fun and a more sociable or sporting lifestyle can help break the yo-yo cycle and deliver an achievable and sustainable long-term routine for all. And that sounds like one success story we can all enjoy.

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Is environment to blame for the nation’s health problems?

16th June 2014

Is environment to blame for the nation's obesity problem?

Obesogenic is a term used to describe environments that encourage people to eat unhealthily and neglect the need to exercise. Such a place is usually overrun by fast-food chains, is plastered with advertising for unhealthy edibles and activities, and encourages its population to drive everywhere rather than walk. Many US cities already fall into this category, but a recent report by the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has shed worrying light on the obesity-encouraging potential of many UK high streets, claiming they offer too many easy opportunities to indulge in burgers, pasties, sweets and fizzy drinks.

In Birmingham, where 64% of the population is overweight and three-quarters of schools have at least one fast-food outlet within 400 metres of their front gates, health officials have taken the decisive action of cracking down on the number of new takeaways allowed to open. And, since 2012, when the policy was introduced, 15 outlets have already been refused planning permission. While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, there is the looming reality that things aren’t happening fast enough. With almost a quarter of Year 6 children in the UK now officially classified as obese, there is an obesity time bomb ticking away that we ignore at our peril.

Of course, even if fast-food consumption was completely outlawed, the obesogenic epicentres would hardly disappear overnight. This is because with or without junk food, our lives are still too sedentary, our children in particular squander too many hours in front of small screens instead of gaining the vital exercise they need. Cycle-to-work and walk-to-school initiatives are great but not always practical. That is why we need to invest in communal outdoor spaces where adults and children can play and keep fit.

For instance, free-to-use outdoor gyms in local parks would encourage adults to keep active on a regular basis. This in turn would lead to a healthier workforce taking fewer sick days. At Caloo, we work with local councils to install robust, attractive and easy-to-use outdoor gym equipment in communal areas. We also work with schools and community groups to develop children’s play areas that promote fun and safety. In short, we provide creative and unique solutions to encourage adults and children to become more active, stemming the pernicious influence of obesogenic environments.

It would be nice to imagine that soon, instead of a fast-food shop within 400 metres of every school, there will be a playground with fun outdoor exercise and play equipment aplenty.

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Every sport needs its heroes – table tennis is no exception

12th June 2014

Every sport needs its heroes – table tennis is no exception

Table tennis may not be the first thing that leaps to mind when we think of home-grown sporting heroes. Yet, over the last century, there have been a handful of British players who have enjoyed staggering success within the game, on an international level.

One such player was Edinburgh-born Helen Elliot Hamilton, who won her first Women’s Singles title in 1949, just three years after she first picked up a ping-pong bat. She went on to win the title 13 times consecutively plus a glistening array of international awards and accolades including World Doubles championships and International Open championships, before retiring to coach young players in holiday camps across the country.

Another British table tennis great was Richard Yule, a fellow Scot who achieved the rare feat of a triple win of the French national, English national and Scottish national titles in the 1970s. Remarkably, Richard’s ping-pong career started off in the less glamorous surrounds of a table tennis bat factory, where he worked before achieving fame. Whether this inspired his love affair with the sport we do not know, but his skill and passion for table tennis saw him take away six World championships, seven European championships and six Commonwealths, and serve a presidency of the National Association.

Both Helen and Richard helped raise the UK’s profile within the game and inspire future generations of table tennis talent across the globe. They showed how you could surpass expectation to become a champion on the world stage, no matter who you were – even if you had only just taken up the sport. Yet, in the UK, their legacy is under threat. With a lack of sufficient communal outdoor ping-pong tables, we are leaving countless future champions unable to unlock their potential. As a result, we continue to succumb to the blistering dominance of a few far eastern countries that have held the global top spots for far too long.

Thankfully, Caloo’s range of affordable outdoor table tennis tables can help turn the tide. With over 20 years’ experience working with companies, local councils and schools, we use creativity and expertise to transform outdoor spaces into places where adults and children can play and keep fit. For ping-pong we are second to none, offering attractive and robust outdoor tables that can withstand heavy use and abuse. Tables that are perfect for nurturing the talent of our future table tennis champions. Our future Helen Elliot Hamiltons and Richard Yules.

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Spotlight on sleep habits as a cause of obesity

12th June 2014

Spotlight on sleep habits as a cause of childhood obesityIn this digital age, when technology is such a massive part of all of our lives, we know that it can be extremely difficult for kids to concentrate on anything else during the daytime. But what we rarely take time to consider is how much technology can affect their sleep patterns too. Youngsters need to rest up and recharge their batteries so they’re ready for all of the adventures the day ahead is going to throw at them, but could the light of their TV on standby, their games console blinking away and the glow from their alarm clock affect whether they will get a good night’s rest?

Sleepless nights don’t just have an impact on energy levels either, as investigations at the Institute of Cancer Research in London show. Recent studies have linked lack of sleep to a higher chance of obesity, meaning the amount of technology in your child’s bedroom could have a serious effect on their long-term health.

Medical science warns us that obese children are more likely to become obese adults, leading to health-related issues and higher rates of premature mortality, so helping your youngster stay fit and healthy during their childhood is the ideal way to get them on the right track for later life. Getting enough sleep is essential for so many reasons, but it is also important for them to get enough physical exercise in their day to stay fit, and to take that exercise outdoors in order to get all the benefits the vitamin D in sunlight can offer them.

One likely explanation for the results of the Institute’s study is that artificial light emitted from computers, smartphones and even streetlamps has a huge impact on our internal body clocks, delaying the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This in turn can have an effect on everything from mood to physical strength and even the way our bodies process food.

Removing unnecessary tech from your child’s rooms is a great start. Do they really need the iPad on charge or their phones switched on to beep every time a text or Facebook update comes through, keeping them awake all the longer? Maybe installing blackout blinds, and opting for a softer night lamp rather than resorting to the bright hallway light, are ways to gradually get them used to the sleep-inducing blanket of darkness that our ancient ancestors knew was the signal for bedtime.

Sleep is, of course, massively important to your health and the health of your children, but then again, so is a healthy lifestyle and staying active. So why don’t you skip that rerun on TV and head outside with the kids?

Convincing them to put down their smartphones and get some outdoor exercise in the playground or the local park on a day of family fun will not only make you and your children feel better, it will also ensure they’ve burnt off plenty of excess energy and they can enjoy a great night’s sleep dreaming about the fun adventures they’ve had. So what are you waiting for? Go on, get on out there!

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Should we ban sugary drinks in schools?

27th May 2014

Outdoor fitness: Should we ban sugary drinks in schools?

Those glistening pure white crystals are highly addictive, so, so tasty, and yet, unfortunately they’re also incredibly detrimental to our health. Yes, I’m talking about white sugar, the totally legal, yet potentially lethal substance which has a hold on our nation.

Despite almost daily reminders in the news and on television through documentaries and Government health warnings we are still feeding this obesity enhancing additive to our children!

We’ve all heard about the damaging effects sugar can have upon our health and more importantly on the future health of our children. This innocent looking white stuff is linked to a whole host of issues, including childhood obesity, tooth decay and malnutrition problems, to name but a few.

The sweet white powdery supplement known as sucrose, which is derived from the sugar cane plant, is particularly bad news and is often secretly dwelling in all kinds of different manufactured food and drinks. One of the worst offenders of all, is the fizzy drink.

The average can of ‘pop’ contains a whopping nine teaspoons of sugar. To put this into perspective, the average adult’s recommended daily sugar intake is around six teaspoons, with the suggested amount for children falling even lower than this of course. Each time your child slurps down just one can, they are consuming around double the amount of the sweet stuff that they should ingest in an entire day.

Shocking statistics show that around 30,000 children are admitted to hospital each year with rotten teeth, and the latest NHS figures reveal that over one million children under five have at least two fillings!

In terms of other health issues, studies have linked the consumption of food and drink with high sugar content to diseases such as diabetes. Consistent results from numerous studies also show a connection between obesity and the regular consumption of sweetened drinks.

So what are we doing to ensure that our children are making the right dietary choices? Currently the sale of fizzy drinks, crisps and sweets in local authority run schools is banned, and this will follow through into other establishments later this year. However, according to a recent poll which questioned 1,000 adults in Britain, over 60% of people would like to ban sugary drinks in schools altogether.

This is a positive response, and it is refreshing that the majority of the population want to work towards protecting the health of the nation’s children. After all, it is the joint responsibility of both parents and the Government to ensure that our children are living a happy and healthy lifestyle. Showing support for this type of ban and highlighting public opinion on these issues can help us to create a healthier environment for children to grow and thrive in.

Another vital aspect of proactive care that can help to combat childhood obesity and other health problems is to ensure your kids are getting plenty of exercise and fresh air. At Caloo we supply a range of exciting outdoor fitness and play equipment for installation in schools and open spaces. This is why we are so passionate about all aspects of health and fitness, especially when it comes to the habits and choices of those we, as adults, are responsible for guiding.

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Fast food, sweets and video games are all good for our kids

27th May 2014

Fast food, sweets and video games are all good for our kidsHold on a minute… we thought sugar was evil!

Okay, so of course, sweets, fast food and video games should not by any means be promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle. An overload of high sugar and fat filled foods and long periods of immobility, staring at screens, is still a bad thing. All we are suggesting is that a little of what you fancy does you good and that we shouldn’t be too hard on our kids, because this can simply heighten desire for the banned items.

The Government should, of course, be providing guidance and advice to allow us to make healthy decisions for our kids; however, allowing room for a little freedom is important.
While we want our children to eat a healthy balanced diet and stay fit and active, we must keep in mind that attempting to initiate a complete restriction of certain foods and activities can incite rebellion.

I’m sure if we put our minds to it, we can all remember a time in our youth, where if an adult tried to ban something, it made it all the more enticing. Maybe it was a hideously scary film, with an age 18 rating, or perhaps it was the chocolates which you were meant to save for when your grandparents came to stay, but instead scoffed down in one midnight feast. More often than not, your parents were right after all when they said ‘don’t do this’ or ‘don’t do that’. The terrifying film, quite rightly, left you traumatised for weeks and the sweets made your tummy ache, but so what – it was fun to break the rules!

With children now having more access to communication and information than ever before, they are able to see what their friends all across the globe are doing, and this naturally makes them want to do it too.

A recent study carried out by NatCen Social Research, which was funded by the Department of Health, looked into a whole range of factors that can affect the happiness of a child. This included the relevance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle and diet. The conclusions drawn from the survey were that Bin fact, there was some indication in the results that higher well-being was more likely” when sweets, snacks and television were enjoyed in moderation.

It was also true, however, that children that enjoyed PE a lot were far more likely to have a positive attitude than those who did not.

The study concluded, that of course the promotion of healthy eating and exercise continues to be vital. Jenny Chanfreau, Senior Researcher at NatCen Social Research, said that: “…behaviours learnt early in life may continue into adulthood and, unlike among children, adults who eat more fruit and vegetables do have higher levels of well-being.”

The phrase ‘everything in moderation’ seems to be entirely apt here. Guide your children towards a healthy and active lifestyle while allowing a little treat every now and again. This seems to be the route to keeping them happy and preventing revolt and excess!

Other ways to increase the bond between parents and children include reading stories at bedtime, helping them with their homework, and finding time in your week for energetic pursuits. Outdoor exercise routines don’t have to be boring or monotonous. They can be challenging, competitive and lots of fun. And popping down to your local outdoor gym with the family to exercise and stay fit, combined with maybe a bike ride there and a game of football, can only bring families closer.

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