First of all...the title of this post seems to say that I know the answer of solving the epidemic of childhood obesity. I don't. Let's just get that out of the way, alright? Alright. So, let's get on with this shall we?
My husband likes to listen to talk radio from Chicago's WGN station. I can take it or leave it. The other night however, the radio was on and the show's host began talking about childhood obesity and how this generation of children may actually have a shorter lifespan than their parents. He also discussed children's lack of daily exercise and bad eating habits. So far I was on board with this guy! That's right! Let's talk about the nitty gritty and figure out how to fix it!
"In most Chicago schools," he said, "kids don't have gym class daily. Kids need to move more! When I was a kid we had gym everyday!!" He contined, "And the food and snacks these kids eat and have access to in schools. Pop and candy machines all over the place."
"I have a solution to these problems!" he exclaimed. Great! I'm leaning closer to the radio at this point eager to hear some intelligent conversation and solutions. His solution? "Teachers should spend less time on English, math and history and devote more time to exercise. As for the vending machines in schools? Raise the prices and the kids won't eat them."
WHAT!!! Was he kidding? I couldn't believe what he had said. I was so mad at this point I raced to the phone to call in and give him a piece of my mind! Thank goodness, the lines were busy and I couldn't get through. I had a hundred arguments running through my head about why he was wrong and I would have sounded like a ranting maniac if I had gotten through.
Now that I am a bit more calm though I do have a couple arguments against his solutions. First, teachers are being asked every year to teach more content with less resources in public schools. Why should they be expected to be responsible for the health of children which, as I view it, is parents' responsibilities . If kids need to move more it should be parents' jobs to get it done. Turn off the tv and go outside with your kids and play and exercise together. I doubt there is any adult in this country, myself included, who would be harmed by a little more exercise. Teachers have enough to do folks let's not burden them anymore with getting our kids healthy. That's our job.
The kids and I often go for walks and runs together. The boys have come to see me run races. This fall we are planning on running a fun run together! Sometimes when the weather is bad we load up in the car for McDonald's Playland and eat apples and drink milk. Sometimes when the weather is bad I bundle the munchkins up and force them outside! And guess what...they usually play outside for a long time even if it is cold. A little bad weather never killed a kid, no matter how much they tried to convince you otherwise.
However what is the school's responsibility are the foods they make available to our children be it from the vending machines or the cafeteria. I remember the vending machines at the school where I taught. They were full of pop and candy, nothing healthy. After school or basketball practice kids get hungry and they will eat whatever is available, healthy or not. Instead of raising prices, which I don't think will change kids' eating habits, get rid of the pop and candy machines and offer something else. My old high school has a vending machine for milk that is very popular. Why not fill vending machines with dried fruit, nuts and healthy granola bars? One reason schools don't change vending machines is because of the revenue they produce. For many athletic departments a large portion of their income comes from vending machines. Of course they don't want to change something that works. Parents, if you want it changed you are probably going to be the ones to do the work. The milk machine I mentioned before wasn't provided by the school. Instead it was put in by the Agriculture Dept. and stocked by parents. And no, the athletic department in that school didn't like it. Funny..you'd think the athletic department would be for healthy eating!
I ate 12 years of cafeteria food and I hated it! So much in fact, that during the 5 years I taught in a public school I NEVER ate a school lunch...even when I forgot my lunch at home. Fried food, salt, tasteless...ugh, I just couldn't do it. I recently found this blog, Fed Up With Lunch; The School Lunch Project. A public school teacher in Illinois is eating school lunch everyday for a year and blogging about it. It's been very enlightening so far as what is being offered to our children as a "healthy" lunch.
My boys will be starting full day kindergarten this fall and I'm planning on packing their lunches. I don't know what their school's lunch program is like. It may be great, I don't know. What I do know is that if we start packing lunches now it will, hopefully, turn into a healthy habit for years to come. It will also provide my boys some independence to make their own food choices. The apple or the banana. The milk or the juice. How many times in their lives do kids face situations when they don't have a choice? Even as adults we like choices rather than being told what we have to do.
Childhood obesity is a big problem in this country. We all know that. I say start at home and don't expect the government of public institutions to fix it for us. I'm all for Michelle Obama and her national initiative but she isn't the ones fixing my kids' dinners or grocery shopping for my family. I am. I don't have all the answers folks; I just had a response to a radio guy that bugged me. What about you? Do you have some answers? What do you do in your household to keep your family healthy? What do you need to do better in the future?
In case you are interested here is a BMI Caluculator for kids.