• Written by Nathan Grills, Associate Professor, Public Health Physician, University of Melbourne
imageTaking your Easter egg hunt to the park is one way of getting some exercise and reclaiming Easter from the chocolate companies at the same time.from

You mightn’t feel inclined to while looking forward to eating plenty of chocolate eggs and bunnies on Sunday, but we should pay some attention to the impact of our Easter chocolate tradition on our health.

It seems we can’t help but buy into the culture of ever-increasing consumption over Easter. In 2014, Australian consumers spent around A$191 million on chocolate at Easter time, a 4.5% increase on the year before. The March/April peak in chocolate consumption may be good for the economy in the short term, but isn’t doing our health budget any favours.

Chocolate is full of the goodness that our brains reward us for eating. Its high sugar content gives us a hit of dopamine that makes us crave more.

Meanwhile, excessive sugar consumption is contributing to our obesity epidemic. Some 63% of Australian adults and one in four children suffer this expensive condition.

What makes obesity expensive is not the supermarket bill for our Easter eggs, but the long-term costs associated with medical expenses and lost productivity. These costs are growing rapidly as we face the complications arising from over-consumption of unhealthy foods. Currently, obesity is estimated to cost Australia as much as A$120 billion each year.

It’s no use proposing to ban the Easter bunny or eliminate the eggs. But it is worth looking for ways to reclaim Australia’s Easter from the chocolate companies.

A national approach

At a national level, Australia needs to move towards much stricter regulation of advertising and promotion of junk food to children – not just at Easter, but all year round.

Both the World Health Organisation and junk food companies recognise the susceptibility of children to advertising, and parents are only too aware of the “pester power” that is unleashed in a supermarket.

Health experts maintain that advertisements contribute to overweight and obesity levels in children, which are cause for myriad further health complications. Despite this evidence, consecutive Australian governments have so far taken the soft and ineffective option of allowing the industry to self-regulate its advertising to children.

It’s time Australia prevented the confectionery industry from profiteering by advertising unhealthy products to our kids.

At home

In the home, Australians can easily trade in a few of their chocolate Easter traditions for healthier alternatives.

If the Easter Bunny visits your house, how about seeing that his basket has more nourishing treats than confectionery? Perhaps a few notes of encouragement burrowed among a batch of hard-boiled eggs that you’ve hand-decorated with your children.

If you’re planning on hiding some treats for the kids to retrieve, take the creativity, adventure and exercise value of the Easter egg hunt up a notch. Make the hunt more about the adventure than the chocolate. Design a special course with obstacles, sign posts, hints or even GPS mapping. Take the hunt to the local park. Invite some other families and make a race out of it, with relays and physical challenges.

Wherever you are, take the focus off passive indoor entertainment, which is linked with overeating junk food, and enjoy the last of the warm weather. Turn the football off, go for a kick in the park or even to a football match. We all know that regular physical exercise does wonders for our heart, waistline, bones and mental health.

At Easter, there are countless opportunities for getting together with friends, family and your wider community, whether that’s to attend church or a local community event.

Whatever you choose, these alternatives are family-friendly, health-promoting, community-building, and designed to cost you and our health system far less than if we merely bow to the corporate interests that have stolen our Easter long weekend.

Have a happy, healthy and creative Easter.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Authors: Nathan Grills, Associate Professor, Public Health Physician, University of Melbourne

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