Every generation of young people has their fashions and signs of “I’ll do it my way” on their clothes, jewelry, or hairstyles. But a trend is differentiating this younger set today: obesity. More and more of our children and youth are getting “tummy”, flabby, and just plain fat at an age when they should be at their best.
Why? I think the answer is obvious. Junk food is too available for our young people. Mochas and hamburgers are generally only a 5-minute drive from high school, so teens have access to empty calories throughout the day. To make matters worse, cafeterias offer fast-food-type meals as they “are going to eat them anyway,” not to mention that vending machines display their impulsive foods in many nooks and crannies of school hallways.
How do we combat this? How can a parent help their children avoid the slippery slide into ill health and obesity? Fortunately, we are seeing more and more cooperation in schools to eliminate vending machines and make better menus for cafeterias. But the first, better obviously the choice is to teach them EARLY to make better eating choices. Help them see the benefits of healthy eating habits while they are young. As they grow, talk about heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc. and how they are the direct result of poor regular food choices.
When I was young, I remember seeing drunks slumped on the side of the street downtown. My dad commented that the poor man made too many bad decisions and chose alcohol as a solution to the problems in his life. Alcohol has its way in a man’s life, slowly killing him unless he takes a radical turn.
So what does this have to do with junk food? It is so relevant that it is scary. Doctors are finally making breakthroughs in both the research and diagnosis of diabetes (and the other big problem: heart disease). It is clear that these diseases are the direct result of our regular intake of junk calories. Sugar and its white cousins are implicated as the root causes of diabetes and heart disease, the second cousins of obesity in adults. Sugar is slowly killing us just as surely as alcohol is killing drunkards, unless we make a radical change … and STOP eating the food that is killing us.
Why don’t parents do the same for their children and their sloppy eating choices? Why don’t we take them to the hospital’s CCU and long-term care wards to see the end results of eating too much sugar? Hey, we don’t even need to go that far. Fat, panting people surround us when we do our shopping. Why not point out (discreetly) that they, like the alcoholic, are on their way to certain and miserable death?
Why not? Because we as parents are becoming victims of these diseases and either out of ignorance or carelessness, we suffer from early or advanced symptoms of these diseases. Junk food, the empty calories that make our kids chubby, are the very forms of food that we ourselves are addicted to. It is difficult to admit that we are the cause of our children’s illness; that we are the ones who need to make a change – first.
But we can change! And we must do it for the sake of our children as well as for our own. Let’s start by making better decisions when it comes to eating both at home and when we are away. You know you will be hungry when you leave home, so plan to bring some good food options. Almonds, dried fruits like raisins, fresh fruit, a small cooler with cheese sticks, bottled water, or juices. Even a sandwich or veggies over ice are a great option. If you know you want something sweet, plan to bring homemade cookies or granola bars that you bought in advance.
The solutions are easy. Discipline is tough. Take one step at a time toward better food choices. Start today to take responsibility for improving the health of your children and young people. Give them the opportunity to live a long and healthy lifespan.