WHEN nutritionist Rosemary Stanton began studying children’s diets in the 1960s, soft drink was only served at parties and takeaway food was a very occasional treat.
There were no McDonald’s or KFC stores on suburban corners, and no one had heard of childhood obesity or eating disorders.
Over a career spanning 47 years, the Kangaroo Valley resident has long been Australia’s most trusted voice on all things nutritional.
She has also witnessed a steady decline in the diets of children and a corresponding expansion of little waistlines.
But this can’t all be blamed on the proliferation of fast food outlets, she said.
In the 1960s most backyards had vegetable gardens. Children had chores, such as collecting eggs, helping pick, wash and peel vegetables, setting the table and washing up.
And most importantly, the family sat down together to share the nightly meal.
Having raised four children of her own and experienced first-hand the difference between city and country life, Rosemary firmly believes that rural and regional communities offer a great model for a healthier lifestyle.
“When I think back to the 1960s and 1970s, we never weighed people,” she said.
“With children, the emphasis was always on sugar and dental health.
“Back then, there might be one child in a class of 30 who was overweight. Now some studies are showing it is about one in four.”
In the 1960s she was part of one of the first ever studies into school tuck shops.
“The tuck shop was only open one day a week so a tuck shop lunch was a treat,” she said.
Though she says the word “treat” has lost its meaning.
“A survey of Victorian school children showed that 93 per cent of lunchboxes contain treats, and the average number of treats is three.”
Rosemary is passionate about the Kitchen Garden Scheme being rolled out in schools, and says children who grow vegetables become children who eat vegetables.
“Kitchen gardens are also good for kids who are depressed or being bullied – it means they have somewhere to go and an activity to do.”
Rosemary also spent many years of her professional life working with anorexics – a condition that was unheard of when she started out.
“I guess back then there was far less emphasis on the body image. Back then people didn’t talk about being fat or thin, they talked about being healthy.”