This was a guest article in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on Sunday, July 5, 2008 by Victor Cass.
I don’t know if I will get in trouble for re-printing it on my blog but I thought it had too much significance to not allow my readers to benefit from it. I’m amazed that the larger news media groups do not allow this type of topic to be brought up here in America. I see it in Australia and England but very rarely do I see it here. I’m just happy I caught this one.
WE see them everywhere we go: chubby children waddling, huffing and puffing, protruding tummies bulging over ill-fitting clothes. Then along come the activists and the media, themselves overweight with politically correct, misdirected “experts.”
Childhood obesity, they claim, is a national epidemic, whose root causes are the “supersize-me culture” of the fast-food industry; food industry advertising; sedentary activities like watching TV and playing video games; cell phones; computers; public schools cutting back on physical education; poverty; racism; lack of universal health care; lack of parks to play in – on and on.
The fingers of blame are pointed in every direction, it seems, except toward the main individuals who can actually impact the eating habits and healthy lifestyles of children – their parents.
These politically correct media types are often quick to point out disclaimers: Parents are too overworked trying to make a living. Or, they’re poor and can’t afford healthy food. Their latchkey kids are feeding themselves in the parents’ absence. How can parents control what their kids eat?
Politicians don’t get re-elected by telling parents they’re the problem. Nonprofits get funded more easily when it’s a case of government throwing big bucks at an institutional crisis, not parents. You see, parental behavior is, well, private. Doesn’t every family have the right to privacy, with parents raising their kids however they please?
A recent study in Pasadena, “Preventing Childhood Obesity: The Need to Create Healthy Places,” revealed that 23.9 percent of Pasadena school children were obese due to lack of exercise and park space. The study actually stated: “A concerted effort from all sectors of society is needed to address this epidemic.” The study’s answer: more parks, healthier menus in our public schools and “safer” neighborhoods so that children could walk to school. No mention of parents, by the way, as if they didn’t exist.
How can we zero in on the parents who knowingly or unknowingly allow their children to become obese, and therefore, unhealthy? How can we help them change tactics with their children?
While there are countless parents who do take their kids to the park, sign them up to play Little League baseball and soccer and who insist they eat their veggies, there are plenty of other parents taking their children to McDonalds and Taco Bell. These parents are the ones allowing their kids to get Venti sugar shakes with extra diabetes cream on top at Starbucks. Or, they model a lifetime of bad habits for their kids by facilitating the consumption of sugar and fat-laden foods by bringing and eating them at home. I don’t see the CEO of Nabisco feeding the obese kids – their parents are.
I’m a single parent and I’m not rich. Yet the only two people who are responsible for what my 6-year-old daughter eats and how much exercise she gets are her mother and me. I encourage my daughter to only eat until she’s full. There is little or no snacking between meals. She is not allowed to drink sodas, or scarf down chips and candy.
My daughter has participated in Girl Scout camping and activities, as well as affordable classes in karate, dancing, and soccer. And, yes, her grandparents and/or I take her to the park (Eaton Canyon or Brookside Park) for weekend hikes. Sometimes we just walk around the neighborhood. It all matters.
I couldn’t get my daughter to eat a cupcake now if I wanted to. On special occasions, such as the movies, she is allowed a Sprite. And after church, she can have one of the small donuts or a cookie served on the post-church snack table out front. And TV time? She gets an hour a night.
I know many other parents like me: ordinary folks just trying to make a living but who care a mighty lot about their kids. We’re not infallible, but we’re reasonable. We try to envision our kids as adults, like us. Will they be healthy? Will they thank us for teaching them to care for their bodies and health in simple ways? We’re counting on the answer being “yes!” Their future, and the health of our nation, depend on us working together, as individual parents, to protect our children’s well-being.
Victor Cass is an artist, writer and police officer living in Pasadena.