Thursday, September 02, 2010

Is the childhood obesity epidemic just a myth?

That's basically the case that Anytime Fitness is making with their new "Coalition of Angry Kids" campaign.

They're suggesting that all the blame for childhood obesity be laid at parental feet.

The point of the campaign of course is to shock.

The argument has some merit. After all, kids don't shop for household food, kids don't generally pack their own lunches and kids don't decide how often their families ought to eat out.

Of course kids also don't pay for billions of dollars of advertisements that entice them to eat junk food. They don't build drive thrus on every corner or put junk food supermarkets in every gas station. Kids don't set menus for their schools' cafeterias and they don't ask that their parents work 14 hour days to put food, whatever food on the table.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that while it is indeed a parent's job to help their child navigate healthily through an incredibly unhealthy environment, the problem is, most parents aren't equipped to do so.

What am I talking about?

Take a peek at the post from a few days ago that had a registered dietitian, in a reputable newspaper calling for kids to be served chocolate milk and juice. Go visit your kids' school cafeteria and see what's being sold - and make sure you keep your eyes open for the vending machines en route. Wander down the aisles of a supermarket and take a peek at the nutritional fact panels of all of the food packages that extol their health benefits despite huge numbers of calories and make sure you take special note of programs like Health Check which encourage you to replace your child's fruit with fruit-concentrate (sugar) sweetened candy. Watch a few hours of children's TV and watch the ads that if your kid's less than 10, they're likely to internalize as truthful.

Our environment is broken and it takes skill, time and awareness to navigate, and while yes, it's ultimately a parent's responsibility to feed their children, I wonder, given the world we live in, does the average parent really stand a chance?