by Alex Boersma
Make no mistake. This is a rant. If the heading above offends you, I suggest you stop reading now. It ain’t gonna get any better! But if you are genuinely concerned about your child’s weight, I suggest you tough it out. You can and should be the one to save your child from the lifelong affects of battling with weight. If you’re not going to do it, who will?
adapted from stats Canada here
In 2004, more than 27% of Canadian children were overweight. Almost 9% were obese! It is now 2012, and just by looking around I am going to go out on a limb and predict that those numbers have not dropped. To say that this is a monumental societal fail would clearly be an understatement. Our society has engineered this impending health disaster with meticulous care. We have processed our food into highly palatable, biologically addictive, nutritiously deficient and calorically dense “products” We have spent billions of dollars marketing this frankenfood, with much of that targeted directly at children. Our governments have supported and endorsed this lunacy by subsidizing the food processors while thumbing their noses at purveyors of real food. And we, parents and consumers, have brought this crap home by the trunk-load because it is cheap, because it is convenient and because, for the most part, we have no idea just how much damage it is doing.
As if that weren’t enough, we have exacerbated this nutritional quagmire by practically eliminating physical activity from our children’s daily lives. Gym classes are going the way of the Do-Do, replaced primarily by something called DPA, which, as far as I can tell, stands for Don’t Perspire Anymore! Balls have been banned, running is often discouraged, and whatever you do, don’t play tag because you might actually touch somebody! And what’s up with not walking to school? God gave our children two feet expressly for the purpose of walking to school…preferably uphill both ways barefoot in two feet of snow! If God wanted our kids to arrive at school in the back of a gas guzzling SUV he would have brought them into this world with a booster seat and a gas card!
Our kids are getting fat! Look around! Is it really normal for more than a quarter of our kids to have muffin tops and jelly bellies? Is it right that our kids need spandex in their jeans almost as badly as their parents do? I know we live in politically correct times and all, but let’s call a fat kid a fat kid (just not to his face) and admit that the health of our children has gone decidedly FUBAR.
Something needs to be done. Not by the government. Not by the health authorities. Not by the school boards. Not by big industry. Something needs to be done by big mommy and big daddy. Remember them? The grown-ups? The ones who make the decisions in the family? The ones who actually bring the trunk-loads of frankenfood from the grocery shelves to the pantry shelves where the children can get their chubby little hands on them ad libitum!
Something needs to be done now. If we don’t do something now, then today’s adult obesity epidemic – you know, the one where 61% of Canadians are overweight – is going to look like a walk in health paradise compared to what will happen when our kids get all middle aged. If we don’t do something for our kids now, then we might as well book them tickets on the WALL-E spaceship AXIOM.
All Aboard The Good Ship Axiom – Fatties and Frankenfoods Only
This isn’t rocket science. We can talk macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. We can talk genetics and epigenetics. We can talk mitochondrial breakdown and insulin resistance. We can talk till we’re blue in the face (or, as most of my readers can probably attest – till we bore ourselves to sleep) but our children don’t need more research, more diet books, more low fat foods or more “nutritionists in the classroom”. They need somebody to keep their chubby little fingers out of the pantry. They need somebody to pack them a lunch made of real food. They need somebody to kick them off the X-Box and onto the street. They need somebody to make them a dinner with recognizable food in it and then sit down and eat it with them. They need somebody to sign them up for soccer or hockey or football, to take them to their practices, to cheer for them when they win and to console them when they lose.
For every overweight kid out there, I suspect there is an equally overweight parent rationalizing about genetic susceptibility and how it was their poor kid’s destiny to wear extra-large pants. Bullshit! Ok, maybe not bullshit for everybody. Sure, there is a very small minority of children who were born with metabolic abnormalities which pre-ordain weight gain. But the chances are very good that your kid is not one of them. The chances are very good that your overweight child could have been normal weight. The chances are also very good that, if you start now, you can reverse your child’s fatty destiny and save him or her from a lifetime of physical and psychological baggage.
You see, genetics tell you only about your potential. If your parents are both tall, you have the potential to play in the NBA. If your parents are both smart, you have the potential to go to MIT. And if your parents are both fat, you have the potential to wear XXL Lulus (you know, to make your butt look good – sorry, bad imagery). But regardless of your genetics, your chances of making the NBA depend almost entirely on how hard you practice, how good your coaches are, and how well you listen to them. Regardless of your genetics, your chances of going to MIT depend almost entirely on whether or not you can stuff your pocket protector with calculators, glasses, compasses, mechanical pencils and what not – then think till your brain explodes. And regardless of your genetics, your chances of becoming a fat kid depend almost entirely on how much you eat and how little you move.
Enough with the rationalization. Just today a Medscape article rambled on about how the scientific literature was unclear on whether or not parental control was effective in preventing childhood obesity. Well, it turns out the” parental control” being analyzed involved interventions with the parents talking to their kids about obesity. Talking to your kids about obesity! Excuse me! I don’t know about the rest of you, but the only time talking to my kids ever changed their behavior was when their was a powerful short term consequence involved. As in, “If you clean your room I’ll play football with you” or “If you don’t clean your room I’ll disconnect the x-box”. The chances of kids eating healthy on the basis of parental “advice” to do so are about the same as the chances of my son waking up one morning and proclaiming “I think I’ll take some time and clean my room today!”
Not gonna happen. Kids will make smart lifestyle choices when, a) those are the choices they have been consistently exposed to, b) there are no other choices or c) they are no longer kids. Go ahead and try to “talk” your kid out of eating junk food, but I suggest that if you’re going to fill your larder full of Joe Lois’ and Miss Vickies’, a lock will probably be more useful than a talk.
Parental control is not about talking. Parental control is about controlling. Now I know all the new age parenting gurus don’t like us to “control” our children, but when it comes to childhood obesity, I believe the time is ripe to investigate just what it means to control your child’s health. Here’s what it means to me:
Fill your pantry and fridge with INCONVENIENT FOOD. That’s right…INCONVENIENT FOOD! The childhood obesity epidemic (the adult one too, for that matter) is most assuredly fueled by convenient food. For kids, making food inconvenient is tantamount to making it unavailable. I know. If I had a hundred dollars for every time I’ve seen my 12 year old son staring blankly into an overflowing pantry and proclaiming “there’s nothing to eat in this house”, I”d be as rich as the guy who invented Twinkies. Kids will make themselves a sandwich if they are hungry. But will they make themselves another during the next commercial break? Probably not, especially if there isn’t anything “convenient” like Skippy or Nutella to smear all over it. You see, preparing a proper sandwich – you know, one with actual food in it – is something you do when you are hungry. It is not something you do just because you are tired of watching a commercial about the heart healthy benefits of Fruit Loops for the umpteenth time. Now if there was a box of Fruit Loops in the pantry….
Here’s a thought experiment. They say that one of the contributing factors to childhood obesity is excessive fruit juice consumption. OK. Do your children drink a lot of fruit juice? Mine sure would if it was available to them all the time. But what about this. What if they could have all the fruit juice they wanted, with only a single caveat – that they make the juice themselves by squeezing it out of the fruit? How much fruit juice would they drink then?
If a food comes in a package and does not need preparation in order to be edible, it holds the potential to fatten your kids. We all know a teenager who comes home and inhales a box of cheerios every day after school. Now that may be OK if he walked home 2 miles uphill (preferably barefoot) in the snow and is planning to play hockey at the outdoor rink (preferably not barefoot) for a couple of hours before dinner. But if he came home in the back seat of mommy’s SUV and the closest he comes to playing hockey is NHL11 on his x-box, then we can all get ready to play “watch the belly fat jiggle” in the upcoming future.
I’ll repeat myself. If a food comes in a package and does not need preparation in order to be edible…..then it is a food that requires controlling. That goes for pop. It goes for juice. It even goes for milk. It goes for cereal, and chips, and Goldfish (the cheesy wheaty kind…not the actual fishy kind – I dare you to try fattening your kid on actual little fish!). It goes for peanut butter, and jam, and Nutella, and cream cheese, and anything else you can scoop from a tub and smear on a piece of Wonderbread. It obviously goes for the Wonderbread itself, but also for whole wheat bread and 12 grain bread and bagels and wraps and even sprouted bread and gluten free bread. It even goes for that Holy-Grail-of-Junk-Food-Disguised-as-Health-Food….the granola bar! If it is easy to eat and yummy, then your job is to limit your child’s access to it. If your child is already overweight, then, barring a lock on the pantry door, the best thing is to JUST SAY NO at the grocery store!
Just say no to convenient food!
Cook real food for your kids and make sure they eat it. I am soooo tired of hearing parents say that little Joey will only eat Kraft Dinner or Pizza Pockets or some other nutritionally bankrupt frankenfood. I suspect that little Joey would eat liver in beet juice if he were hungry enough. But he isn’t about to get hungry enough because his parents haven’t got the testicular fortitude to send him to bed hungry and feed him cold dinner for breakfast. These are the same parents who mutter incoherently about “choosing your battles” as if creating healthy eating habits was on the same parenting plane as deciding what kind of clothes your kids should wear to school.
If your “little Joey” eats nothing but frankenfood, then you have failed him as a parent. You have set him up for a lifetime of health complications, foremost of which would be obesity. It is often said that if you don’t have your health, you have nothing. By not ”choosing” this battle, you have chosen to give your child nothing.
Make your kids move. Movement is good for you. When you stop moving, you grow fat and you die. If you are a kid who has stopped moving, you grow fat, you live a miserable and sickly life for 40 or 50 years, and then you die. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Kids don’t stop moving without a little help from their environment. Without a little help from over-protective parents who won’t let them go outside for fear of kidnappers, molesters and various other media inflated bogeymen. And without a little help from litigation-conscious school administrators who ban balls and tag and running and touching and anything else that remotely resembles fun. That’s right, fun! For kids, fun and movement are synonymous. We are taking that association away from them and replacing it with what….DPA? What kind of an association is that? That’s like taking away somebody’s sports-car and replacing it with a minivan. Sure, its more practical and better for the environment and safer and all, but how does it feel when you floor the accelerator?
Physical activity should be fun. It should feel like flooring the accelerator on a Porche. Kids know this intuitively and practice it spontaneously. We adults could all benefit from taking the time to re-acquaint ourselves with intuitive and spontaneous play. Perhaps if we did, we would not so readily allow our childrens’ play to be taken away.
You don’t have to make your kids be physically active. You just have to give them the opportunity. That means not driving them to school. That means shutting down the electronics. It means pressuring your school board to allow actual play in the school yard. It means letting them try any sport they like until they find one they love. It means allowing them to experience the exhilaration of competition, the camaraderie of team play and the sense of accomplishment associated with individual physical effort. It means sharing with them the thrill of victory. And when they lose, it means reminding them that they were having fun and that somebody always has to lose.
For the first time in centuries, there is a good chance our children will have a lower life expectancy than we do. If this is so, then it is almost certainly due to the fact that we are fattening our children more quickly than any generation ever before us. The health consequences of this early marbling are sure to be disastrous. As parents, we cannot stand idly by and accept this destiny for our children. We can change the collective weight and fate of an entire generation, but only if we take responsibility now for what that generation is eating and doing. Real food and real activity are no longer mainstays in our children’s lives. It is time to bring them back.