According to the Surgeon General's latest report on obesity, Americans are heavier than ever. The report shows that two-thirds of adults and nearly one in three children are overweight or obese. Obesity in the U.S. more than doubled among adults and more than tripled among children and adolescents in my lifetime. And, if the trend continues at this rate, more than half of all Americans will be obese in ten years. HOLY HELL!
Sounds like a full-on, legitimate, put-the-fork-down crisis to me.
Michelle Obama, with the help of our leading governmental authorities on health and nutrition, has a new plan to solve the childhood brand of obesity. As a first step, she beseeched local governments to help educate kids about healthy eating and provide more nutritional food choices in public schools.
General sentiment holds adults entirely responsible for the choices they make with regard to what they eat. However, American children, the vast majority of whom spend their weekdays in public schools, are subject to foods purchased and prepared with tax dollars. This apparent lack of decision-making ability thusly requires federal government intervention. Right?
Wrong ... or ... sort of, actually. Focusing on kids is a great first move. But without parental buy-in, any initiative to slim down the kiddos will fail for a multitude of reasons:
1) Adults (not children) make the most impactful dietary decisions in the home and set the most important example.
Sure, they're alarmingly chubbier than their adult counterparts these days, but kids don't (and shouldn't) make the big decisions about the foods they consume. They don't have jobs (until later in adolescence) or regularly shop for groceries. Moreover, they lack the discipline to limit video game time or the ability to head to the park by themselves for a jog whenever the mood strikes them. THEY ARE KIDS.
Children learn by example from their families. We've known forever that if parents don't see the value in something, their kids rarely do either. Without a broader family focus, concentrating on these young, impressionable non-decision makers is a likely waste of resources.
2) To convince adults that they can and should eat healthier, their misconceptions about proper nutrition and who's responsible for delivering it must change.
Educating children about nutrition and exercise make shave a few pounds off of America's collective youth. Or, it could have the completely opposite effect. If poorly informed parents feel that their kids are getting "healthy" lunches at school, then the pizza rolls and tater tots they feed them at home aren't such a big deal. Pop Tarts for breakfast and Juicy Juice at dinner will be even more acceptable for parents who feel that their children's nutritional needs are being met elsewhere. Nutrition will become another school responsibility, much like the reading that many parents don't do with their kids after school. Go ahead and play World of Warcraft, you had gym class this week, right?
Of course I believe that children should have access to good food and physical activity through school programs, as much as they should have textbooks. I'm just saying that if we're going to dump tax dollars into a program to battle childhood obesity, we must start with the PARENTS and it doesn't help that the current system sets those parents up to fail.
3) Grown-ups need assistance from an unbiased regulatory system to level the playing field and make real, healthy, whole food accessible and affordable, even when compared to super-processed, ultra-fast alternatives.
We have our work cut out for us with the group that actually is responsible for feeding the household. It's just not possible for the average American adult to make an informed buying decision about food in a ruthlessly mechanized environment where highly processed items are subsidized to the point that chips and soda cost less than non-genetically modified tomatoes or organic lettuce. Well, not without doing a lot of research before heading to the supermarket anyway.
Holding individuals 100% accountable for choosing a McDonalds' $1 double cheeseburger over fresh veggies is silly in some respects. The fact that McDonalds can buy meat, cheese and a bun, get it to their restaurant, cook it, assemble it and serve it for ONE DOLLAR is absurd. Forget the fact that they own the restaurant and pay obscene amounts of money to advertise said burger. This is only one small example of what's broken about the business of feeding America. Still, nearly every example I can conjure reveals food industry obstacles (promulgated by poor regulation) that deter us from making healthy choices and instead point us toward convenient, processed and unhealthy food.
4) It's not just about how much we weigh, it's about how healthy and how committed to change we are.
It's impossible to to discuss Michelle Obama's plan without mentioning the manner in which she delivered it. Last week, Michelle Obama waged war against childhood obesity at an event in Alexandria, Va. In an effort to personalize her initiative, the First Lady openly discussed concerns raised by her daughters' pediatrician (at some point in the past) that Sasha and Malia were becoming overweight.
"We went to our pediatrician all the time," Obama said. "I thought my kids were perfect -- they are and always will be -- but he [the doctor] warned that he was concerned that something was getting off balance."
She went on to say that it can be difficult to notice changes (like weight gain) in our own kids because we're so close to them and love them no matter what. She pointed out some changes that were simple, but very effective to help her own girls be healthier - replacing sugary drinks in lunch boxes and serving more vegetables with dinner.
Obama's thoughtful message was muddled by rumblings in the media and blogosphere alike, criticizing public discussion of her daughters' "weight issues". See Should Michelle Obama Talk About Girls' Brush With Fat?, Is It Okay to Talk About Your Daughters' Weight If It's for the National Good? and Did Michelle Obama Send the Wrong Message With Obesity Comments?.
You simply cannot solve a problem without first facing it. If we aren't willing to listen to a mother talk about her own struggle to feed healthy food to her family without berating her, we aren't going to get very far in the fight for health in the US. Weight isn't the root of the problem; it's a byproduct of a failed system. Making the discussion of weight taboo, is not helpful. However, talking about it can shed some light on why we're carrying around so much of it, and what we can do to lose it.
Accountability is at the root of much success in life, especially when there is an obstacle to overcome. Our government needs to regulate the farm/food industry to create a path for individuals that leads to health and success. Individuals must then create their plan for a healthier family, talk about it A LOT and commit to it.
I await the rest of the First Lady's plan with cautious optimism that it is comprehensive enough to tackle the issues outlined above and shift the current trajectory to favor a thinner, healthier future for America.
We love to hear from you. Comments? Please leave one and share your fuss with us.