My guest column for the New Hamburg Independent.
Child obesity is often described as a health epidemic, and this is no exaggeration. In North America, overweight children outnumber malnourished children. Unless growing waistlines shrink, we’re facing a health time bomb.
This isn’t a matter of aesthetics. It’s about ensuring our children learn how to make healthy diet choices. The New Hamburg Independent recently published an article that referred to my concerns about a fundraiser at my granddaughter’s school, which involved selling a particularly unhealthy candy (No sugar coating fundraiser’s poor choice; Oct 21, 2009).
This sends mixed messages to children. How do I explain to my granddaughter that, no, she can’t eat these chocolates, but it’s okay for me to sell them to her relatives?
The school also offers pizza on hot meal days, which is another type of fundraising. The article states, “Pepperoni is the main topping of choice. It may not be the healthiest topping, but students are unlikely to eat anything else.” It goes on, “Volunteers used to spend hours chopping up fresh, raw vegetables to serve… (They) decided it was best to stop providing the vegetables since few students actually ate them.”
I found this attitude rather negative. As Debbie Field, executive director of FoodShare – a non-profit community organization whose vision is healthy food for all – said in the Toronto Star: “The argument is still that kids won’t eat healthy food and so they must have unhealthy food in cafeterias.”
The comments by my granddaughter’s school led me to believe that part of the problem lies with how we – parents and other primary caregivers – think of food. If students are refusing to eat healthily at school, perhaps it’s because they aren’t doing so at home, either.
I know kids who will only eat white bread. However, that’s just because their parents buy white bread rather than a healthier whole-wheat loaf. Unless a young child is doing the weekly grocery shopping on her own, I’m assuming that her food choices at home are determined by what her parents provide. My granddaughter eats whole-wheat bread because that’s all that we offer her. She’s never asked for white bread, nor said that she doesn’t like whole-wheat.
It’s up to us to decide what’s best for our kids, so it makes sense that we should be the ones choosing what they eat, not them. Parenting isn’t a democracy.
Finding out what qualifies as healthy is simple, but few of us bother to do it. Packaged food bought in stores carries a label with nutritional values, as well as a list of ingredients. Choosing foods that are low in saturated fat or sodium (salt), and high in protein and fibre, requires nothing more taxing than reading.
We shouldn’t consider children’s diets in isolation. Research shows that a young child will mirror the behaviour of the adults who are closest to her. If your eating habits are poor, chances are that she’ll mimic you. It’ll be hard to convince her to do the right thing if you’re not making the rules apply to you, too.
Parents need to lead by example. Because where you lead, they will follow.