I was a fat kid.
Why? Simple: I grew up under the old methods of “finish what’s on your plate” and “a growing boy needs his food.” Both my parents worked, but my mom found time to cook everyday and meals were very rarely microwaved or made of processed foods — they just happened to be high fat, high calorie or portions were on the extreme side (who knew that the ultra-fresh chicken I ate as a kid is now considered high end gourmet in a restaurant and costs 3x as much?). I was a very active child and yet I was nearly as round as I was high.
Then, sometime around my junior year of high school, it went away. I went from 200+ pounds to just over 150 without too many significant changes. It was like someone had flipped the switch for my metabolism. Flash forward 15 years and I don’t struggle with my weight, but I am always conscious of it. I read the nutrition facts, exercise and generally know calorie counts without needing to read the label — and I can say that it is by no means easy to simply maintain a healthy weight.
As we look for the single answer to obesity in America (you know, the one we can solve with a pill), I think it is time to look at all the issues that might be causing the single problem in the hope of making the changes we need to reverse this course:
- Extended Workweek. This has a few layers. Kids, two working parents, and the death of the 40 hour work week might play the most significant role all around. Working a sedentary desk job where taking a lunch break is frowned upon is not healthy and on the work clock 24 hours a day doesn’t leave a lot of time for studying nutrition and meal planning. Sprinkle in some stress and you have the perfect storm of adult obesity and creating an obese child. We need to put food on the table and don’t have a lot of time to do it. And exercise? Ha!
- Industrial to Technological Economy. I grew up on a farm tossing around hay bales and bags of fertilizer. I now sit at a desk and type away. I wonder: which one burns more calories? This isn’t a suggestion to go back to our industrial ways, but we do need to make adjustments for our new, more sedentary ones.
- More Options. Worked late and need to get food on the table — a full meal is only a phone call or quick stop on the way home away. And I can’t say that fresh produce stands are popping up and advertising like some other more well known establishments.
- Less Understanding. The fact that a parent out there didn’t realize Nutella wasn’t a healthy food choice says that education could play a major role in obesity (and I don’t mean about how to just read a nutrition label — I think we need to brush up on simple reading and comprehension skills as well).
- Mixed Messages. “You’re 12 and morbidly obese, but that’s okay, you should be comfortable in your own skin.” Time to take of the gloves. “My child is obese and will die young.” We have to be honest with ourselves. There are winners and losers in the real world — but it doesn’t mean that you can’t change it.
The severe shortage of time and the abundance of options create an atmosphere ripe for the growth of obesity. Add economic, geographic and demographic overlays and the picture gets even more convoluted. Companies are crying foul as employees get more expensive to insure but on the other hand making it more and more difficult for workers to find the time to be active and focus on proper nutrition. I think this is a circle we do want broken.
For ourselves, we need to make the time for proper nutrition and exercise and less time for excuses. For our children, we must set good examples and provide healthy food and activities. It won’t happen overnight, but we need to start somewhere. Our lives and the lives of our children depend on it.
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