Thursday, February 16, 2012

Food Revolution Friday: Childhood Obesity - Who is Responsible?

In the last few weeks, I've joined in Bookieboo 's twitter party where bloggers discuss the ad campaign by @strong_4_life that features obese children.  Critics of the ads say that they shame young people who are overweight, and encourage @strong_4_life to instead empower young people by educating them and their parents about portion size, exercise, and what they are eating.   The ads hit an emotional hot button for many who may have been obese when they were a child and have scars from the bullying or insults that were hurled in their direction.

I believe that our health issues these days are a multi-faceted issue, encompassing everything from our attitudes towards food such as using it as a reward, the idea that each sports practise should be accompanied by a snack, the draw of shock value food, the availability of fast food and treats, out of control portion sizes, genetically modified food, big business marketing food, school lunches that are mostly fast food, packaged food instead of home made, sedentary lifestyles, and our constant on the go lifestyle.

Before I go very far, let's be absolutely transparent here; I have never, ever, been overweight.  I do not know what it's like.  I truly can't relate.  However, I know what it's like to be sedentary.  I am not motivated when it comes to exercise and although I have recently forced myself to become more active, for the last 10 years I have been fairly sedentary.   I spend far more time on social media and blogging than I do being active.   Through my adult life, I've weighed between 118 and 125 lbs, and stand at 5 feet and 5 inches tall.  I realize that I'm in the minority.

When discussing the obesity issue, it seems as though the finger pointing and blame game is rampant.  Whether it's big business, the government, or parents, everyone wants to find a source for this problem and fix it.  The problem is, I believe, that the issue is huge.  HUGE.   When I went to Kraft Canada, I could see that companies make these convenience foods because people buy them.  Why should they change?   One only has to look on Pinterest to find  soda cakes that people are making.  Go to a local restaurant and you'll easily find portion sizes that are 2-3 times what we really should be eating, and sometimes people still say it's not enough.  Fast food restaurants are still trying to push the envelope by creating shock value food like bacon milkshakes or remember the Double Down?  Physical Education classes have been reduced and underfunded in schools as well, and our kids are much less active.  Remember back in the days when we used to spend our Saturdays roller skating, going to the waterslides or pool, mini golf, or biking?  Kids just don't do those things anymore.

In my opinion, our society has lost our sense of moderation.  Gone are the days where we'd have a can of Coke, or hot dog day at school once a month.  We are never satisfied anymore. The treats are now mainstays, and with our crazy busy schedules were are far more stressed.  The kids are signed up for more activities, we are working more, there is little time, and so we rely on convenience foods that truly are far from any kind of real food our parents may have eaten.   Companies have capitalized on this and stepped in with marketing aimed right at our kids, and we head right out and buy them.  Last weekend when I shopped in the city a family was behind me in Superstore, and their cart was full,  I watched as they unloaded it, and in that massive cart of food, only TWO things were unprocessed-chicken and a bag of oranges.  The rest was everything from frozen entrees to corn dogs, taquitos, Kraft Dinner, and canned soup.   The sad thing?  They were not the minority.

I know this is nothing new to my readers.  You all are savvy in the food department.  I really shouldn't be surprised anymore, but I do find it interesting to read up on food trends in the news.  This article, and specifically the video on CNN piqued my interest by interviewing one of the children who actually participated in @strong_4_life 's campaign.

The issue is so complex, and I don't profess to know any of the answers.  What I do know is that we each are responsible for ourselves and our own children.  Don't want your kids eating hot lunch? Pack them a healthy one. Try cooking more from scratch.  Get out and move with your kids.  Visit a farmer's market, or try to buy more local produce. Teach them where their food comes from.  Turn off the Tv. Raise your voice in your kid's classrooms and with their coaches if food is being used as a reward.  Teach them, teach the people who work with them, teach yourself.

This has all been mulling around in my brain, but what drove the point home was illustrated by a simple t-shirt.  You see, I work in Physical Education classes and often wear t-shirts, usually ones with logos that have been given to me by companies that I've worked with.  Nobody has ever really commented on ones with logos from Chicken Farmer's of Canada, Paper Chef, Canyonlands Jeep Rental, and more.

Today I wore a shirt that was given to me from Kelloggs, with a Froot Loops Logo on the front.  I hadn't planned to, but it was clean and happened to be the shirt I shoved into my bag from the hamper.  In the rush of the day, I threw it on and made my way to the weight room.

Within five minutes, FIVE students noticed the shirt and commented on how much they love Froot Loops.  At that point, I realized I had become a walking ad for a cereal that I would never serve to my own child because of it's food colouring and sugar content.  What horrified me was that they were so attached to that logo, it elicited an immediate response.

I will never wear that shirt to work again.

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