A recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that one out of every four children in the U.S. is diabetic or prediabetic.
Now, as a parent this news is disturbing – but not surprising. Having spent more than my fair share of time in water parks and attended a gross of school-related concerts, plays, and athletic games, I’ve witnessed first-hand the broadening of our nation’s youth in more ways than their minds.
And this is not the pudginess of my youth — the occasional kid with a true weight problem — it’s the ubiquitous muffin top peeking over almost all of the waist bands, even kids with otherwise proportionate body types. And increasingly, studies point to this “belly fat” as the culprit of chronic weight-related health issues.
Cut to the news of New York City mayor Bloomberg calling for a ban on sugary beverages of over 16 ounces and the remarkable announcement that Disney will limit junk food ads on their channels.
"...It’s the ubiquitous muffin top peeking over almost all of the waist bands..."
Now, perhaps I should hop on a soap box and wax indignant about the government and industry trying to take away my right to consume as much sugar as I’d like — but I agree with them. Unfortunately, most of us are powerless over our addiction to sugar (guilty).
Thank goodness someone in a position to make change has taken a stand. Here’s a list of other stands I’d love to see our leaders (read: parents, industry, schools, restaurants) take as it relates to fighting for our nation’s health:
- Limit restaurant beverage refills - It’s too easy to mindlessly drink more than we need or want when servers keep our glass filled.
- Require fat, calorie, sugar and salt information next to all menu items – Places like Panera, where this information is posted prominently, keep nutritional information top-of-mind.
- Require personal size snack foods and drinks to be limited to a single portion per bag. Sneaking 2 ½ portions in what appears to be an individual serving bag or bottle is just plain crappy and it encourages accidental overindulgence.
- Remind parents and kids that an hour of baseball practice is more standing and waiting than running and playing, and it does not count as a full hour of physical exercise. And it sure doesn’t merit a bag of Oreos and a lemonade.
- Return to normal size bakery items – Muffins, bagels, cookies – they all used to be a moderate size. Today they are ginormous (and delicious I might add). In this case, bigger is not better.
- Ban all snack foods and drinks in school. And I’m not just talking about vending machines and school lunches. My mom used to say, “hunger is the best cook” and she was right. Hungry kids will eat what they have. Parents, we are in control of what goes into those lunches – and we control what food comes into our homes. Kids can’t eat what they can’t get, so if they are eating junk it is our fault. Let’s make consuming junk food rare and limited to special circumstances.
Maybe I’m crazy, but the growing epidemic of obesity is about more than what we put in our mouths – it’s about what we put into our heads. It’s about all the ways we put ourselves and our children in electronic handcuffs that keep us mentally engaged and physically disconnected.
It’s about so many TV channels there’s always something to watch. It’s too many electronic toys at too young an age. It’s about food ads that convince us to use junk food as a reward (“good mood food” ring a bell?). It’s about being so tired from racing home from work to get our kids to practice that we are too exhausted to exercise as a family.
Maybe I’m crazy, but the growing epidemic of obesity is about more than what we put in our mouths – it’s about what we put into our heads.
It’s about having so much to do that we welcome the “electronic babysitter” so we can get a moment’s peace. It’s believing reality TV is more entertaining than the reality of spending time with our own family. It’s about a fitness industry that’s tells us that exercise is at a club or in a class instead of a walk around the block or game of pick-up basketball.
It’s about believing we are too busy to wash, cut, scrub and serve a variety of vegetables and fruits at every meal. And it’s also about wimping out and bringing home dinner in a bag too often.
Our problems are as much about how we raise our children as they are about what we feed them.
Here are a few more changes I would make if I could:
- Create a small park in every neighborhood -- based on population density -- so there is plenty of green space and kids can walk or ride there safely.
- Require sidewalks for safer bike and pedestrian traffic.
- Install pedestrian walk signals and crosswalks at all intersections so kids are not ‘land locked’ in their neighborhood and can cross busy roads safely.
- Provide “park directors” (i.e. college students) to supervise activities in the summer months so parents can allow their kids to venture to the park alone.
- Encourage over-protective parents to give their kids some freedom to explore their world – on foot, by bike, on scooter. Freedom is a wonderful thing to exercise. And if you’re not ready to let them go alone — then go along with them!
- Ban screen time between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m. (except for homework) from September to June. Insist that children be outdoors, weather permitting (and “weather permitting” means temps between zero and 100 degrees, light to moderate rain included!).
- Outlaw all screen time from June to September – summer is short – get outside. Our mothers knew the best way to keep us out of their hair was to keep us out of their house. We don’t need screens to occupy our children – grass, trees, forts, sprinklers, wading pools, frogs, bug hunts, tree climbing, reading in a hammock, lemonade stands… adventure awaits our children right outside their door.
At the end of the day I think some of the problems we face are about fear. Fear of letting our kids out of our sight, fear of them being snatched, mangled or abused. Fear of them growing up too fast or getting in over their heads when they are away from us.
Our mothers knew the best way to keep us out of their hair was to keep us out of their house.
I can relate to this – I am guilty of many of the things I mention here. But what price are we paying for their "safety"? I want my kids to be independent and daring and resilient. Instead of “cheating death” on our neighborhood streets they are racing toward an early demise from diabetes, heart disease, stroke, even heart attack. I think I’ll take my chances outside, in the fresh air.