How do we beat childhood obesity if Michelle Obama can’t?

01 Feb

Michelle Obama created a lot of chatter when she started a garden at the White House. Sadly, her garden could not be certified organic, but she was able to bring up the issue of growing food and eating whole foods at home and how important that is. Mrs. Obama does not have to prepare her own meals or pick out her own foods and she started a garden and a lot of people started talking about it. Then a farmers market opened up next to the White House on Thursday afternoons. And recently Mrs. Obama announced that she wants the fight against childhood obesity to be her legacy.
The fact that 18% of American children are obese is something that should be discussed. Children require so many more calories than adults. Their bodies are growing, their metabolisms are faster, they have more energy and they “play” much more than adults and still even at this time in their lives our children are obese. And if the problem is this bad when they are young what is going to happen when they grow up and their bodies slow down and their muscles naturally make way for more fat?
Mrs. Obama believes that we can attack this problem by:
  • improving school lunches
  • more physical activity (including school phys-ed cut due to budget constraints)
  • access to fresh and healthy foods in all communities (nutrition deserts are all too common in poor urban areas)
  • nutrition education for kids and their parents

All of those seem like logical ways to attack the problem. However, a post on last week on Fooducrte blog state that Mrs. Obama will fail. The basis of their argument was money. It may be expense to treat the diseases caused by obesity but it will be even more detrimental to our economy if we prevent obesity.

Jobs and revenue that will be lost:

  • Junk food manufacturers (over 100 billion dollars in annual revenues)
  • Weight Loss (tens of billions of dollars)
  • Supplements (tens of billions)
  • Healthcare (over 100 billion dollars annually in obesity related treatments)
  • Fast food establishments (over 300 billion dollars)

The argument states that if prevent obesity instead of encouraging it and then trying to rid ourselves of it the economy will be damaged. We will lose all the money listed above. Also, these are huge businesses and they are not about to stand by and let their client base slim down and not need their services anymore. So, if people start eating less junk food then the junk food companies will advertise more. And dollar for dollar they will win.

Mrs. Obama is one person (even if she has the support of the government and nonprofits) and these are huge companies (with huge budgets).

However, while the odds seem to be stacked against her, I still think it is an important stance to take. And we have to start somewhere.

Educating students is an important step, but I think it is more important to lead by example. Therefore, the first thing we should do is put P.E. back in schools and improve school lunches. If you give students healthier lunches and highlight the items that are local, sustainable, free-range. Using these words on the childrens’ food at school will teach them the options they have when eating. Currently food is not something we think about. It is lunch time so children go to the cafeteria and get a tray of whatever is available. (I think adults do the same thing, its lunch time so they go to the first sandwich place they see.) But it is important to think about our food options and what we put into our mouths.

I understand that P.E. was cut in many schools as part of budget cuts- (I am not sure why P.E. is such an expensive class- but that is a research project for another day). However, our children spend almost 8 hours a day in front of a screen (tv, computer, game boy) and they do not play outside. Children need to run around. (Adults also need to exercise.) Playing games outside is exercise and it can be fun and it is very healthy. We need to encourage our children to exercise.

I believe that educating children is a great way to spread an idea. Children have a lot of influence in their families and are constantly exposed to new ideas that they share with other people. Plus if we teach them to make smart eating choices now then they will grow into adults that make healthy food decisions. I think that presenting students with healthy meals and exercise will make an impression and encourage good behaviors. However, I do think that adding education on top of the food and exercise will be extremely beneficial.

Adding nutrition and health education to our classes will be a huge challenge. The school gardening programs are generating a lot of talk. Also, we have a hard enough time teaching our students all of the material they should learn between kindergarten and 12th grade its asking a lot of educators to add in more materials. Plus, this is information that will not help the students on standardized exams, which determine school funding, so convincing educators to spend time on these topics will be very difficult.

Junk food and weight loss diets are not going out of style any time soon. They will be around for a long time. But we need to make healthy choices for ourselves and for our children. And even more importantly than that, we need to teach children about the options they have and that food is a very integral part of out lives. Food should not be an after thought of your day- it should influence your day. What you eat has a huge impact on your body and even how you feel and science is continuing to prove this.

So, we might no be able to rid the country of junk food and replace it with locally grown vegetables, but we need to take a stance, we need to encourage conversation. Fooducate is right, we have a very long and difficult road ahead – but we have to start somewhere.


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Posted by on February 1, 2010 in food


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