This past Thanksgiving I spent a day at one of my favorite havens- Boy Scout Camp. No TV, plenty of outdoor activity for the boys, and limited junk food. However, this past visit had its disappointments- many of the kids I taught were already obese. There were kids surfing their iPhones around the campfire. The Trading Post did brisk business in candy bars and soda.
I usually don’t mind the Trading Post or iPhones. However, most of those kids already have a steady diet of soda, junk food, and electronic entertainment every day of the year. Goodies that were once a special treat away from home have become the norm at home.
This over-consuming of junk food and entertainment leads to other medical problems besides being merely fat and idle. These kids feel bad about themselves. They do worse in school. They fill doctors’ offices and emergency departments with complaints of stomach pain and constipation. They will grow up to have early heart attacks, depression, diabetes, strokes, gall bladder attacks, cancers, knee and foot pain.
Obesity is not entirely our fault. Humans and other animals were biologically programmed eons ago to eat, store fat, and rest when food was plentiful, as a hedge for when food was scarce. Now, in our modern society, times are always good when it comes to finding calories. And biology had no need in the bad old days to provide us with an off switch for eating and resting.
Our biological bent to obesity is now also aided and abetted by the food industry. In the 1950s the industry had a dilemma: how do you convince an already well-fed people to eat more, in order to accelerate profits? They invented “food science,” where chemists manufacture additives to make food more delicious and more delicious-looking. They invented advertising based on psychology to sell us that food and get us hooked, like addicts and their first taste of heroin.
And it worked. Who doesn’t love junk food, myself included? Even in France, where they are famously fussy about their good food, McDonald’s does its biggest business outside of the US. So how can we save our children from what we have wrought on them? And what about our planet, which is groaning with the burden of supporting our junk food habit? And what of the unfairness, the sin, where billions in the world still go to bed hungry?
The answer is that our brains must take charge over our biology. The hard work starts at home- don’t buy junk food and soda! Don’t bring it into the house! Make sure your kid gets a fruit with every meal. Give them a vegetable with lunch and dinner- if only a handful of carrot sticks (my favorite go-to vegetable). All grains should be high fiber- whether it is wheat bread or high fiber breakfast cereal. Dinner should be eaten with all the family members together, talking about their days and their lives, practicing conversation, stimulating each others’ brains, rather than watching TV.
More hard work- be firm with your kids about the TV. It should not be turned on at all on school days. Computers should only be used for school work on school days- not for surfing, watching videos, or playing electronic games. Kids should never have a TV, computer, or game system in their bedroom.
If your kids are bored and whining and start to fight, stay strong! That boredom is incentive for them to go out and start exploring and making their own fun, which is how kids grow good brains and strong bodies. That is when they learn to love books, friendships, board and card games, sports, and outdoors. Soon the no-TV/computer rule becomes easier to enforce.
Play is the work of childhood. It is now harder and harder to protect your childrens’ play from the onslaught of advertising, junk food, and electronics. But this is part of the hard work of parenting, so your kids can be kids again.