Why do we not give cigarettes to kids? Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.
Why do we not let them drive a car? Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.
Why do we not give them drugs? Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.
Why do we not send them off to school full of toaster pastries (candy disguised as breakfast?) Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.
Oh, how I wish that last one were true. But somehow our culture has slipped, we have lowered our collective bar, to the point where we don’t even think it’s odd any more to:
- Give kindergarteners an afternoon snack of “juice boxes” (poorly named as most contain no juice), even though sugar-sweetened drinks suppress immunity and induce an adrenaline response at unusually high levels in children. Not what is needed in a class of 5 year olds!
- Serve “fast food” like burgers and fries in school cafeterias, even though consumption of these junk foods has been shown to lower test scores.
- Provide “energy drinks” for student athletes during halftime, even though these chemical-laden stimulants have been linked to serious complications and even death.
And when a parent tries to call foul on this bizarre behavior, he/she tends to be viewed as “extreme,” and to be hear they should “let kids be kids.” OK, pass them a cigar – they may like that, too.
Instead, what if we could find a way to tune out the words of the food marketers (whose job it is to increase consumption of their brands – not to increase your health) … and to instead make independent, informed choices for what to feed our families and ourselves?
What would our meals look like? What would our kids’ snacks look like? And what would be the impact on our collective health?
I believe we can reverse the trend in child obesity rates, which have quadrupled, from 5 to 20% in the last 30 years, along with hospitalizations of children due to obesity complications.
I believe we can reverse the highly related Type 2 Diabetes crisis (healthcare costs of $110 billion in 2011, projected to rise to nearly $157 billion by 2017).
And, call me crazy, but I think this can and must happen quickly, overnight, even. Let’s effect a culture shift that makes healthy choices the norm … the “default” behavior, and makes unhealthy choices uncomfortable.
If you are a parent, you can help be a driver of the shift. Bring beautiful, healthy snacks and meals when called upon by your school. Demonstrate that in-season fruit, water (maybe flavored with some fresh fruit?), and veggie snacks will be gobbled up as quickly as junk food, but with FAR better long-term results. And at home, cook, or at least assemble! If you start with whole ingredients like vegetables, grains, eggs, etc., and keep the focus more on vegetable sources, it is incredibly hard to make unhealthy meals. It’s the so-called “convenience” foods that come pre-packaged, pre-measured, pre-sliced that are most dangerous to your family’s health. Think: making your own chips vs. buying them in bags. You may have them from time to time, but the volume would be drastically reduced.
If you are an educator, make your classroom a “marketing central” for a healthy lifestyle. Kids who look at appetizing pictures of fruits and veggies all day tend to choose and eat more of these foods at meals! And for goodness sake, please ask parents to send only snacks that support health.
If you are a doctor or nurse, PLEASE don’t be afraid to suggest that families limit their foods to those made from fresh, whole ingredients. It’s not “fringy” or “crunchy” … it’s based in science and just makes sense. Years ago, a few words from a pediatrician helped call my attention to a dietary choice I was making (for “convenience”) that compromised my children’s health. He made a huge impact on our lives.
If you are an influencer of others – and this includes all celebrities, athletes, journalists, bloggers, etc. – please wield your influence wisely. Since you have to maintain high energy for your high-impact life, you probably already make awesome food and lifestyle choices. Be public – very, very public – with them.
And whoever you are, for yourself, as you go through your day, ask yourself whether each food choice you’re about to make supports or damages your health. If it is damaging, exercise this opportunity to hold yourself to a higher standard … to tell yourself a new story about your value, and what your body deserves by instead choosing foods that are healthy and life-affirming.
It really doesn’t take many good choices before they suddenly start to be the easy norm for you … and even those around you!