Kids, Obesity and Finger Pointing

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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.

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

"This is the best family vacation ever!" We heard those words several times during our second trip to Disney World. I don't know how they did it, but the team behind Disney Social Media Moms managed to outdo themselves from our first trip two years ago. The team that puts this event together really pay attention to every detail. They manage to find the perfect balance of learning, fun and 'soft pitches' from the different areas of Disney.

If you're wondering what the conference is all about, Suzanna from Zannaland wrote a very thorough description of what the event is all about. In a nutshell, the conference is an invite-only event designed to bring together bloggers from different genres for a combination of junket, motivational speakers and social media education. It's hard to recap eight days of fun without completely Disney-fying my blog so, for this post at least, I'll stick to the highlights of the conference itself.

Thursday, Conference Day 1
Since we were in Orlando so early because of the redeye flight, we had our first buffet at Cape May Cafe and then we walked around our hotel. The pool at the Yacht Club Resort is by far the best of the four hotels we've stayed in. The conference opened with a cocktail reception for the attendees. We learned about Disney's newest resort in Hawaii, Aulani and the Adventures By Disney program. After the reception we went to a dinner party.

One of the best things about attending this conference is how well our families are included. The Yacht Club which has its own beach, and dinner was buffet style. The pirate themed dinner was on the sand. I have to say, it's great to go to a conference where you aren't required to wear shoes! The kids had a blast playing the water and the sun setting over the hotels was beautiful. It was such a nice way to start saying hello to everyone attending.

(credit: 5 Minutes for Mom)

Friday, Conference Day 2
We always get an early start on the speakers so we can enjoy the parks before all meeting again for dinner. We had a great lineup of speakers: Amy Jo Martin, Peter Shankman, Chris Brogan, Ramon De Leon and San Diegan Lisa Druxman. It's great to go to an event that is equal parts practical takeaway and motivation. I connected with so much of what Amy Jo said, namely, that I've been approaching so many aspects of social media as a business entirely wrong! I have a lot to think about.

The dinner event was a private party in DinoLand. The park was closed to guests and the kids had free run of the arcade games. I'm still kicking myself that I did not know Expedition Everest (the best coaster in Disney World) was open for us to ride. A DJ was onsite as well as a few characters for photos.

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to hang out at the pool and give Tyler time to burn off some of the energy (and sugar) from the dinner party. Having cocktails in the jacuzzi while your child plays in the lazy river is a fantastic way to end the day.

Saturday, Conference Day 3
This was the day some conference attendees chose their breakout session. I heard so many good things about the Wild Africa Trek I didn't hesitate to sign up. I was a little sad to miss the hard hat tour of the new Fantasyland (it's going to be amazing!) and the session on video blogging from Sony. But, I can honestly say the Trek was one of the best things I've ever done on vacation.

On the tour, participants are strapped into harnesses with carabiners. We're hooked onto a central line and we got to stand about 10 feet above the hippo pool and the crocodile nest. Then we crossed over the crocs and hippos on a rope bridge. After that, we took a guided tour through the Savannah. We stopped for a bento style lunch and the views were incredible. If we go back to Disney, we're going to really make an effort to keep room in the budget for this. Tyler would love it! 

All the families met again for the closing party. We got to take a sneak peek at Disney's newest resort, Art of Animation. It was amazing! The property is divided by theme and we got to see the Finding Nemo property. All I could say, repeatedly, was Wow! The building is beautiful. It's bright and colorful. There's fantastic artwork, the arcade was top notch and the pool! Stunning. It was the perfect setting to end the weekend.

Thank you to all of the Social Media Moms organizers! We had a great time.

*I'll have all my photos up on Flickr soon. We paid a fee to attend DSMM and were offered various discounts, experiences and perks. I have not been asked to write about the conference or Disney. Thoughts and opinions are purely my own.

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