I was lucky. Where I grew up the television didn’t start broadcasting until 5 PM. There was no internet, and when we came home from school, our mom told us to go out and play. Now, our winters were a bit tough—I did grow up in Alaska.
We had a lot of rain in Alaska, so sometimes we were banished to our room to play with our toys. But, when summer came—well, Mom let us out after breakfast, we came home for a quick bite, then out the door we went. Yup, I remember those days—they were the last time I saw my ribs.
Now there is an epidemic of obesity in children
There are several obvious sources: the first is sedentary behaviors—like me sitting in front of this computer. Television is now on multiple channels all day and all night. Internet has opened up even more reasons to sit for long periods. The world has become a tad more dangerous, and so moms don’t like their kids going out all day. Keeping them in front of a television or computer screen seems safe. However, studies show how unsafe this is. They show that the more kids watch television, the higher the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Fast food is a primary cause of overweight children in America
The other difference is diet. There was very little fast food in Alaska—in fact, we didn’t have any of the usual franchise operations. Our idea of fast food was putting peanut butter on some bread and running out the door to play hide and seek. Portions have also changed. Recently McDonald’s had a sale of their hamburger for 19 cents so I bought one—my goodness is that thing small! It was the same burger they sold in the 1960’s. Everything about that hamburger has increased: the calories, excess fat, refined sugar, and about the only thing that has not increased in size is the bicep’s on the kids who eat them.
Food portions have become larger
As portion size in America increases, so does the gut size of our kids—and those of us who aren’t kids, but that is for the rest of this book. Take a look at the traditional bagel you buy in any grocery store—it has about 70 calories. That is the one we used to eat. Now take a look at the ones in the Bagel Shop on the corner. These are larger bagels. Each one has about 350 calories—without the cream cheese. We now consume these ones at our desks with a large Latté full of cream and sugar as we sit in front of our computer.
Children have more opportunities to make bad food choices
Once upon a time, a child had two choices for school lunch. Either he ate in the cafeteria, where the same government-regulated nutritionally balanced meal was served to each child, or he brought his lunch from home. Two drinks were served: milk and water. Now the school lunchroom is like the food courts you find in big city malls. There are stalls where children shop for their favorite foods like pizza, hamburgers, and fries.
I remember when schools didn’t serve desserts except on special occasions like holidays. Now there is an assortment of desserts and ice cream flavors to choose from. Students can also choose from a wide range of soft drinks during lunch and from vending machines between classes. (Remember raising your hand for permission to go get a drink of water from the fountain in the hall?) Now all a child needs to satisfy his craving for fat and sweets is some change in his pocket.
More soft drink consumption – more nutritionally empty sugar calories
In the 1970’s the average person consumed 27 gallons of soft drinks per year. The average person now consumes about 44 gallons a year. It adds up to an overall increase of 400 or more calories a day. There is not only an increase in the amount of sugar consumed, but also in the amount of refined flour. This is not just a problem in the United States, it is a problem worldwide. In Asia, where more and more the diet is becoming “Americanized,” obese children are called “little fatties.”
What can parents do to protect their child from a diet of fat and sugar?
We can’t follow them to school and make their selections for them. The key is to start educating your child about nutrition at an early age. Serve healthy foods at home and talk to your child about what those fats and sweets do to a person’s body. Point out the benefits of eating lots of fruits and vegetables. I wonder… what ever happened to “Popeye” the cartoon sailor man? When I was growing up we all knew “Popeye” was strong because he ate his spinach. I hated spinach but Mom explained that green beans and other green vegetables, if I ate them almost every day, would have the same benefits. Well, that didn’t work, but then again I didn’t want to grow up and go out with Olive Oil either.