Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kids, Obesity and Finger Pointing

This post has been sitting in draft for a looonng time. Almost two years. I started it and worried I wasn't being articulate enough for such a controversial topic. But, there's no point in writing it if I'm not going to put it out there. I don't push buttons just for the sake of it, but I do think serious conversations are in order when it comes to children and obesity.

I wrote the following in March when Tyler was still in second grade, as a contribution for a newsletter piece:
A few weeks ago at morning assembly, I noticed a girl I had not seen before in the second grade classes. This little girl is obese. Not 'big boned'. Not 'still carrying baby fat', or any other euphemism people apply to children who are overweight. Obese. I watched her struggle to get up from her carpet square after assembly and my heart broke for her.
She is, unfortunately, not the only severely overweight child at my son's elementary school. There are others. Too many others. Watching these kids try to be kids; running and playing with their friends while their faces get red, their breathing gets labored and they are often left behind; it's hard not to get angry with their parents. How can anyone let that happen to a child?
A week or so after I submitted the piece I saw her getting out of a car at morning drop off. She had to swing one leg out of the car then turn onto her stomach to get out the rest of the way. Not from a tall SUV, from a regular car.

I saw the little girl again this year on the first day of school. She's gotten bigger. I have no idea what's going on in her household. I have no idea if there are extenuating circumstances or underlying health issues. And, I know I'm making huge assumptions about this girl and her family. But I feel very strongly that it's one thing for an adult to make poor diet and lifestyle choices, but kids need our help getting off to a good start.

We go out to eat. I eat ice cream and cookies after Tyler goes to bed. I know what to look for when I read a label, I know what a portion size looks like and know I can't eat like bad foods every day without consequences. Kids don't know these things until we teach them.

Tyler has years ahead of him to eat like crap and not exercise. But while he's living at home, it's my job to steer him in the right direction. We talk about healthy food. I've told him about HFCS. He knows why candy is a special treat. He understands why I stopped buying juice pouches. Hopefully, the habits we have a t home now will transfer when he's older and out on his own.

Weight is a hot button topic. Especially when it comes to children. There is always blame. I know that it is possible for an adult to carry extra weight and be healthy, but is that true for children? If a 7 year old weighs the same as an adult, is the stress on their developing bodies the same as it is for an overweight adult or is it worse? Children should not be obese! Again, I'm not referring to chubby. I think we all know the difference between a little bit of pudge and obesity. If I had to guess, the little girl, a third grader, weighs almost as much as I do.

I know the arguments people make about healthy eating: it takes too much time, there's a lack of education, access, and financial resources. To a certain extent, I agree with parts of the reasons people say eating healthy is hard for them to do on a consistent basis. Reading a label can be confusing. Some grocery stores are better than others. Organics are expensive. It's hard to keep up with the trends when, one day, agave syrup is the miracle replacement for table sugar and the next it's said it's exactly like table sugar and maybe even worse. I know this.

But when are we as a society going to call bullshit and say enough with the excuses? This is the age of instant information. If you need help or have questions about diet and nutrition, ask! Google 'healthy eating for kids' and you can get lost in the Internet rabbit hole of recipes, nutrition information, food blogs etc. That search term yielded me 130 personal results. Those are things my friends, family and fellow bloggers have posted online. Add those results to ones from various health, government and non profit organizations and 'I didn't know' just won't cut it anymore. If people on Twitter can break news before traditional media, researching healthy eating can't be hard.

We are raising a generation of children doomed to a lifetime of health issues. By no means am I saying I'm perfect or some type of role model. I'm not purposely trying to make anyone angry, either. It seems to me the fingers keep pointing in so many directions; the school system, the fast food industry, the food manufacturers, but I'm not hearing anyone say, "if you are the person responsible for the grocery shopping, you need to be accountable."

**************

This is where I stopped writing and left the post in draft. I think the post came back to me because of a Newsweek magazine article by Gary Taubes that I read last week. I think the science of why we gain weight is more complex than the simplistic calorie intake and lack of exercise we hear, but I also think being active and monitoring what types of fats, starches and carbs we consume as well as not being sedentary is totally key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Image from PDFMagazines

I think a lot of people get hung up on a specific idea of what healthy should mean. Healthy does not have to equal eating only heaps of fruit and vegetables. Getting my son to regularly eat veggies is a challenge that I don't always win.

Healthy can be switching from whole milk to lowfat, buying wheat bread instead white, buying reduced sugar peanut butter and jelly, 100% fruit leather over other fruit strips, switching to an all fruit and nut trail mix over the ones with chocolate pieces. Skinless chicken breasts over other pieces, ground turkey or chicken over beef. Eating one meatless meal per week (marinara over meat sauce). I can go on and on. So many little swaps in the items people add to their grocery carts and tweaks to what is prepared at home can mean big changes in terms of the amount of sugar, bad fats and calories consumed.

People are overweight for different reasons. I know people struggle with food and weight. Still, I stand by my statement that a fourth grader should not weigh the same as an adult. Food choices are not as hard as some are making them out to be. Some of the excuses for not leading a more healthful lifestyle are just that, excuses.

As a nation we have enough knowledge about what kinds of things we should and should not be putting into our bodies. We know moderation is key. We know doing something physical several times a week is better than sitting around. We know if the first ingredient on a food label is some form of 'ucrose' it's not good for us. We know kids learn from our behaviors. We know we are the best example to set for our kids.

The girl I mentioned in the newsletter piece still attends Tyler's school. I can say for sure she's gained a lot more weight since I first saw her in second grade. If she doesn't weigh more than me I'd be shocked. I can't help but feel someone in her family has failed her. Whether it's from lifestyle choices or something is happening with her health, she needs help. 

I don't know all the answers. I'm not saying I'm right and everyone else is wrong. But I've watched this young girl literally gasping for breath just walking down the hallway. And that's just not right.

We need to look at what we're putting on the conveyor belt and ordering at the takeout window and take ownership. We need to look at our families and ask if we're really making the best choices. We have to stop pointing fingers in every other direction but at ourselves.

2 comments :

  1. While I was reading this Hershey's Kisses started following me on Twitter. I find that a little ironic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree with you, and I feel awful about that little girl. If something doesn't change, either through diet and exercise or through medical intervention (depending on what her situation is), then she is headed for an untimely end.

    ReplyDelete

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