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Family Nutrition: The blame game - Child Obesity

I was reading the ‘cliff notes’ of a study by Susan Terwilliger, clinical associate professor at Decker School of Nursing at Binghamton University just the other day.  The study reviewed 3rd and 4th graders in four different schools and came to the conclusion that 70% of children drank two to five sweetened drinks a day, 85% watched two to five hours of TV a day, and 42% ate two or more fast food meals a day.  The observation from Terwilliger is that the results of this study prove to be consequences of decisions made and her thought is that parents and schools are to blame. 

My experience with school lunch programs dates back to the 1990’s where I consulted and analyzed the nutrient contents of school breakfasts and lunches for a particular state.  The schools in the entire state failed miserably. Fat percentages were above 40% of the total meal, the choices were processed and refined with little nutritional value, and often there were little choices for fruits and vegetables.  Yes that’s pretty bad, but can we blame the schools?  Think about the schools from a business perspective they have to stay within a budget that is handed out to them at the state level.  We know processed foods purchased in bulk are the cheapest way to feed a large group of people.  The schools are doing what they need to do just to get by, with little nutritional guidance.

Parents, well that’s another story. As a parent, you have a responsibility to instill healthy habits in your children.  Women should and often are focusing on nutrients as early as pre conception. Why would you stop paying attention to what your children are eating after they arrive?  Yes, the choices at schools are horrendous.  Nowadays there’s chocolate milk, soda vending machines, candy and all sorts of horrible stuff, but you have a responsibility as a parent to teach your children about good nutrition.  I often have some of the peanut gallery tell me they don’t bother packing lunches for their kids because they will just trade it for what they want.  Really, is that all you got?  Do you talk to your children about what they ate for their lunch?  Do they understand it is okay to have a reasonable dessert if they eat their whole grains, lean protein, and fruit? Why do they only want to eat junk? Are you withholding too much at home? 

It is perfectly acceptable, in my opinion, to talk to your children at a young age about being overweight and the complications it can cause: diabetes, heart attack, stroke, infertility issues, Cancer, and even death.   Why count on the schools to educate your kids?  At the end of the day all the findings above: the sweetened drinks, allowance of time to watch television, and fast food seem like allowed behavior driven by the parents.  Obesity is becoming an epidemic.  There are more people in the world who are overweight and obese than at an acceptable weight.  Make it a priority to work with your kids on optimal nutrition and appropriate choices and if you need help, meet with a dietitian. It will be worth every year you extend their life. 


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