When It Comes to Health, Adults Shortchange Kids




The problems of childhood obesity are not exclusive to American soil. Both the U.S. and many European countries face this crisis. Various solutions have been proposed and executed. Everything from promoting exercise to teaching children about the origin of their food to banning candy or sweets on school campuses.

Now the European Commission has put forth a new initiative. A recent BMJ article, European Commission plans free fruit and vegetable scheme in schools, highlights the commission’s desire to get kids off to a strong start regarding healthy eating habits. Although various countries have enacted similar plans, the commission’s concern is that these plans have holes in them including:

  • They only cover a small regional area
  • They only provide healthy food on a short-term basis or every once in a while
  • There are no guarantees that the program will continue

The commission wants to fix this by providing money to countries that voluntarily participate. The catch: each participating country must match the money provided by the commission with the exception of some needy areas.

Although I think that efforts to promote healthy habits among children is worthy, I think that this program, and others like it, are really band-aids for the real problem: us adults.

As most of us have humbly learned, children learn from example. And so the logical explanation for obesity and unhealthy eating habits among our children is nothing less than our own example. Because of our misguided actions and decisions, governments around the world are having to shell out money to fix our screwed up results.

Not only have we picked up shudder-inducing eating habits (and hey, I definitely include myself in the “we” I blame) but we have allowed the marketing industry to become corrupt-a-kid renegades. The combination of our desire for a quick drive-through burger, endless commercials, and colorful “fruit” roll-up boxes depicting one beloved cartoon character or another has proven too much for our impressionable children.

If we really want to curb the obesity issue and teach our kids how to eat we have to shun convenience and instant gratification for something else: good food. We have to pull out the cutting board and cut the orange instead of handing over a packet of sugary fruit chews. We have to plan meals instead of watching TV. We have to pass up the quick candy bar we crave so that our kids don’t get into the habit of thinking that it’s okay to fill our bodies with sugar.

I cringe at these words. Alas, I am a sugar-addict and I too know how easy it is to order a basket of fries or reason that a few sips of soda won’t hurt. But I know that each time I hear about another government program aimed at preventing what I’ve helped start I’m going to cringe even more.

Reference

Watson, R. (2008). European Commission plans free fruit and vegetable scheme in schools. BMJ, 337(jul15 1), a829-a829. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a829

  • Barbara

    Hi JR,

    I don’t have any children to influence, so the only one I’m currently influencing is me. However, until reading your article today, I hadn’t really realized where so many of my own poor eating habits originated. I was quick to blame it all on me, that I could’ve and should’ve made better choices along the way. I did grow up in a time when we actually ate dinner at a dinner table. At the same time I saw that picure, I witnessed relatives I lived with either reject the food in favor of chocolates, milkshakes, chips and soda or add it as another ongoing evening meal until bedtime. Sweets and snacks were not treats, they were part of the meal program I watched and incorporated. I have now had the task of breaking one habit after another. I finally realize a candy bar or or cookies or even dessert are not a necesary part of each meal. Of course, it is not perfect, nor am I at following my own new rules. The biggest thing is to now try and alter one’s screwed up metabolism at a time in life when that has naturally slowed. I know kids don’t want to hear or believe that, but maybe, like you said, there are some adults who can not only testify and be gate keepers, but truly see their children struggling with this when they reach their age. Isn’t that part of the American Dream? To see your kids have it better than you did? I don’t think that just means an MBA and three cars, the supposed good stuff. Honestly, I’d like to know, if I had children, that unnecessary struggle was not even on their radar.

J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.
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