“Childhood obesity,” aka fat kids.
In the 70s, they didn’t call it childhood obesity; they called me a fat kid. Little did I know, I was a trailblazer for generations of fat kids to come. According to the CDC, 17% of U.S. kids 2-19 are obese, almost triple the rate of 1980. Even my obsession Biggest Loser NBC is tacking the subject this season, with three kids on the show. Some have questioned whether that is taking it too far; personally, I’m thrilled that they are taking it on. Clearly, a lot of kids need more help than they are getting currently, to learn better habits.
See this kid, on a mission for cake? That would be me, circa maybe 1975 or 1976, In my sweet *custom made* – because nothing in the store fit – shirt. Nice chins!
Luckily, my son has somehow, thus far, defied the genetic odds, and has an abdominal six pack at the age of 7. I think we create a pretty decent environment for him, and thankfully he loves to exercise. There’s a girl in his class, though, who reminds me terribly of the long-ago me in this photo. At the school Christmas party, she quickly polished off a couple of fruit kebobs, a couple of cookies, three mini sweet rolls and came back for more. I told her flat out, “I think you’ve had enough.” It made me wonder if she hears that at home, or if her parents are in denial. I suspect the latter.
Parents are in hard core denial.
At least one study has found that many parents are in hard core denial on the subject; 76% of parents with an overweight or obese child said their child was either normal weight or underweight. Say what? That, to me, is a frightening statistic. Wake. Up. People.
Were my parents in that denial? I can find no other explanation short of sheer negligence, so I’m choosing to go with denial. As kids, my brothers and I had unfettered access to a giant cupboard full of “food” – and I use the term loosely. Boxes of Lucky Charms and every other crappy cereal on the planet. Bags of Doritos and Cheetos and all the other “-itos”. Candy bars with a side of Ding-Dongs. While some of our dinners were *marginally* healthy, it also wasn’t unusual for dinner to be a bucket of KFC (mmmmmmmm chicken skin *vomits*) or hotdogs stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon (OK, that still sounds kind of good, sometimes). Yet somehow it was periodically mandatory that we stayed at the table until we choked down our cooked carrots…as if that was going to do any good. My mother, God rest her soul, was a lot of wonderful things, but a nutritionist was *clearly* not among them.
Teaching kids nutrition, step one: “Step away from the cake, honey.”
Is it really that hard to teach kids about decent nutrition? Really? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s irresponsible to not do everything you can to try to teach them good eating habits. Yes, I know there are sometimes extenuating circumstances, that it can be much harder for parents in low-income households where maybe both parents or a single parent are working multiple jobs and not around as much as they’d like to be, or they live in a “food desert” and don’t have convenient transportation. I get that. I do. But for most people, I suspect they just get complacent and forget how extremely important this is.
Snap out of it, parents! Stop. Letting. Your. Kids. Eat. Too. Much. CRAP. Just STOP. Look at it this way…
We are teaching our children to form eating habits that they will literally spend a life time either suffering from, recovering from, or living healthy from.
I’m probably preaching mostly to the choir here. If so, good for you. So how do YOU teach your kids about nutrition? I’m curious to know.
For me, a lot of it is “by example.” Step one: get the crap food out of your house. End of story. Cheetos are NOT food. Neither are Oreos. Teach your kids to eat food not products (h/t Rachel Wilberding on that one, I think). My son doesn’t eat a lot of crap, but much to my chagrin, he also doesn’t eat a lot of plants. Thus far, me regaling him with how delightful the blueberries, orange, salad, green beans, cabbage and mushrooms I ate today were is *not* having the desired impact. Handfuls of meat are really more his style. Sometimes, I guess example just isn’t enough. I need to step up my game, however I can.
Lately we’ve been having a healthy dialogue about balance between carbs/protein/fat (as I work on it myself) and he’s soaking that up like a sponge. I think we need to drill more into the actual *vitamin* content of food next.
I’ve been looking online for great resources to use and to share with you on this topic and, frankly, I’m not finding a whole lot of greatness. Here’s one good tool that might be helpful, probably for younger kids. Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, nutritionist on my obsession Biggest Loser NBC, created a program called Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, a child and adolescent nutrition program that has helped thousands of kids lose (or maintain) their weight and learn healthy eating habits. It’s based on the principles of the traffic light. Green Light foods are lowest in calories (Go!); Yellow Light foods are moderate in calories (Slow!); Red Light foods are highest in calories (Uh-oh!). Yay! for gamification of kids’ nutrition.
I’d love to see a really smart nutrition game/tracker for older kids, with some meaningful rewards built in. Still looking.
Voila, just a few decades after mmmm cake, we have…”slim fit” pants!
Miracles do happen, and even a kid raised on Cheetos and chicken skin and mmmm cake can, eventually, bounce back…with enough reading and enough running and a husband who’s willing to cook enough healthy meals. I’m not completely where I want to be yet…not sure I *ever* will be…but yesterday, for literally the first time in my life, I bought a pair of pants described as “slim fit” and “low rise,” both terms that usually cue me immediately that these are so not the pants I’m looking for. I wanted to weep with joy, right there in the Banana Republic dressing room, with the German-lady-who-accessorizes-much-better-than-I-do.
So..Ta-da. Behold. Slim fit pants!
*Resisting urge to insult my thighs with all my might. They’ve carried me well over 500 miles recently…and deserve kindness from me.* I still have a ways to go to get where I want to be, but I’m pretty happy with my progress so far this year. My nutrition-specific OCD is paying off.
I know some of you know a LOT about nutrition and kids. Please share!