“We are what we eat,” or “We are as we eat,” may be overstatements, but they convey the importance of what we take into our bodies. Athletes pursuing physical excellence pay close attention to their diets, as do those recovering from some diseases. Eating disorders take their place among dangerous addictions. People can literally eat or starve themselves to death.
Most children don’t realize they are building bodies for the rest of their lives. Teenagers, with an unconscious sense of invincibility, find it hard to realize the harm poor eating and drinking habits can bring upon them.
Fast foods or junk foods use quick service, low cost, and the pleasant taste of salt and grease or artificial sweeteners to entice customers-particularly the young. Advertisements use finely honed and sexy bodies to suggest the benefits of some drink or food.
The epidemic of childhood obesity in American and some other societies (in ironic contrast to starving children) has been well documented (and unsuccessfully denied). At least seven European countries are said to exceed obesity in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:
• adult obesity has doubled since 1980 to 30%
• obesity is blamed on 112,000 deaths in the U.S. per year
• the direct costs of obesity have risen from $52 billion in 1995 to $75 billion in 2003
• childhood and youthful obesity have more than doubled since 1960 and are reaching serious levels
The Center for Disease Control’s “Promoting Better Health: A Report to the President,” 25Jul05, begins with this sentence: “Our nation’s young people are, in large measure, inactive, unfit, and increasingly overweight.”
In August, 2005, the American Beverage Association dramatically admitted corporate responsibility for improved nutrition among children and youth. Susan Neely, CEO of the ABA, declared that parents should have assurance that their children are not drinking excessive amounts of sweetness at school.
Childhood obesity is a real problem…. The individual companies (Pepsi, Coca Cola, etc.) have been doing several things to be part of the solution (she did not go so far as to admit their being a crucial part of the problem)…. There was an agreement among all of us of our leadership that we needed to take another step and take it as an industry.
Actually the soft drink industry had seen the handwriting on the wall as public health officials, and politicians were poised to take action. So, they announced guidelines that most critics say do not go far enough-allowing high school students to obtain from vending machines in school halls as much soda as they want. (The overall annual advertising by food, beverage, candy and fast-food restaurant industries targeting children, teens and young adults is $11.2 billion.)
Meanwhile McDonalds features a 1,190-calorie breakfast, Hardee’s is promoting a 1,400-calorie Monster Thickburger, Wendy brags about its 1,000-calorie triple cheeseburger, Ruby Tuesday has a 1,780-calorie Colossal Burger, and Pizza Hut advertises its Full House XL pizza at 2,240 calories. Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Boston Children’s Hospital finds children arriving at his clinic who consume 1000 calories a day of soft drinks.
Generally, and on average, a 1600 caloric intake a day for girls and 1750 per day for boys, with exercise, is recommended. A couple of soft drinks and pizza or fries and big burger can take someone up to, or beyond, this level in one sitting.
In 2004, the Boston School Committee set nutritional standards for their schools. High-fat snacks and other junk foods were banned from school property. Soft drinks, fruit drinks with little nutritional value and sports drinks were also denied, according to Jonathan Palumbo, the committee spokesman.
The kids do spend a good amount of time in schools. If we can help them shape healthy eating practices in schools, then it’s a step in the right direction.
To that end the school committee set up minimum standards for their schools:
• fruit or vegetable-based drinks must contain at least 50% real fruit or vegetable juices with no sweeteners;
• soy or rice drinks must be fortified with calcium and vitamins and contain no more than 30 grams of sugar.
Some communities and districts have gone even further in helping their children and youth develop good life eating habits.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Considering your own past eating patterns, what have been your best and worst eating practices?
2. How important do you consider nutrition in a society and in one’s personal life to be? How does your opinion on this influence the way you life and eat/drink?
3. Do you consider nutrition to be a public health issue? What are the practical implications of your opinion?
4. What place is there for discussion of nutrition in the family, in schools, in public media, and in youth groups?
1. Throughout most of history, nutritional practices developed as a balance between factors such as
available food and long-term health.
2. In the transition from productive to consumerist societies, corporate profits become the prime motivator. Seductive commercials exploit human desires. For the individual, immediate pleasure can obliterate good long-term health. “Comfort foods” can relieve pain and give temporary satisfaction. For businesses, corporate health and profit can overcome considerations of the common good and health of our society.
3. Most would agree that compromises can be made between food that is especially healthy and food that is mostly just enjoyable. It takes time and effort to teach that balance to children and youth.