We are a nation of advocates. Of changemakers. Of visionaries. We have achieved incredible medical advancements, such as developing childhood vaccines for adult cancers. When we decide as a nation that something should happen, it does.
And yet, despite decades of mounting evidence, we have not been able to address the single-most important health threat facing our children today: childhood obesity.
We all know that childhood obesity is rampant in America. We know that it is crushing our children’s health, and as we discuss in our new book, Always the Fat Kid: The Truth About the Enduring Effects of Childhood Obesity, it is also undermining their future mental health and social well-being as adults. We all know the familiar litany of obesity’s “usual suspects”: portion sizes, technology, fast food, food marketing…the list goes on and on. And each of these factors does play a very important role in the maintenance of obesity.
Why then, does it continue?
The real culprit of childhood obesity is you. Well, more precisely, all of us. Each and every one of us is complicit in this ongoing crime against our children. As a society, we have chosen not to advocate for change through our democratic right and social obligation. Case in point: In late 2011, Congress nixed a proposed revision to child nutrition guidelines that would have increased the amount of tomato paste that qualifies as a vegetable.
So what? Well, by failing to implement the new guidelines, school cafeterias are able to count pizza as a vegetable. That’s right, as long as a slice of pizza has two tablespoons of tomato sauce, it counts as a serving of vegetables. And not just two tablespoons of vegetables; it counts as half a cup. So, federally speaking, one slice of pizza is the same as a half cup of broccoli. Three slices of pizza? The same as two entire ears of corn.
While this temporarily flew across the blogosphere, the surge of emotion was almost entirely limited to vitriolic blog comments related to Congress. As we all know, comment sections of blogs don’t change the world. Action does. And yet this law still stands, as do many other similar laws. People love to blame Congress for these laws, and yes, they pass them. But the truth is that they stand because of us. We do not hold legislators accountable, and do not mobilize to change these absurd laws. Instead, we vent, we moan, and we move on. And the situation remains the same.
Why? There are two main reasons. First, many people feel it is not their problem. If they don’t have kids, or if they do but their kids are not overweight, it’s not their problem, right? Wrong. Even if altruism doesn’t catch you, think of this: Currently, the financial cost of childhood obesity is over $3 billion per year. That cost is shouldered by us all, and will only continue to grow as childhood obesity increases.
Second, as a society we have become afraid of discussing weight—it is almost taboo. However, wholesale avoidance of weight in discussions is not the right course of action. Because of this growing culture of “fat fear,” people are often terrified to mention weight to others. Parents have even become so afraid of discussing weight that studies show they are more comfortable talking about sex and drugs with their children than they are talking about weight. If we can’t even talk to children about it, how can we expect them to maintain a healthy weight?
Let’s face it: Whether you like the word or not, kids are fat! Until we embrace that as a fact, and stop sugar-coating things in vague clinical language, we will never generate the kind of social action that will be required to change things. At the most basic level, we have to be able to talk about it to find ways to address it.
The fight against childhood obesity will be epic—and not just fought by parents. Each of us has the responsibility as citizens to hold policymakers, advertisers, and schools responsible for the often ludicrous decisions they make, and for the outright exploitation of our children that sometimes occurs. There are many great programs that communities can implement, such as the National Institutes of Health’s “We Can” initiative, but these programs need someone willing to take the reins. We should all use our voices, our influence, our unique skills to address this problem. Each of us has something we can contribute, and with one out of every three children being overweight, they need a lot of advocates.
Are you one of those advocates? What do you think should be done to end the epidemic of childhood obesity?
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Jacob C. Warren, Ph.D. and K. Bryant Smalley, Ph.D., Psy.D. are the co-authors of Always the Fat Kid: The Truth About the Enduring Effects of Childhood Obesity.
These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.