Thursday, July 07, 2005

Rant: The Obese Nation

The National Post today had a lovely headline – FAT nation. Took up nearly half the front page. Think they were trying to catch our attention? If so, good job. Now if people would only listen, maybe we’d get somewhere. I’ve been ranting for a while now on how our kids (and when I say our, I mean this in a global sense since I’m kid-less and plan on staying that way) have begun growing outward at a far faster rate than they are growing upward. If you walk by any schoolyard or mall the effects are easily seen. The number of overweight and obese children is staggering. The Maritimes are the worst, with 32% of our kids falling into these two categories.

In my mind, the reasons for this are numerous but simple. Think back to when you were a kid. Was the television your babysitter? Did you spend all day surfing the net? Playing video games? Stuffing your face with junk food? I know I didn’t. My mother couldn’t kick me out of the house fast enough, even on the rainy days.

“Kelly, go outside and play.”
“But Mom, I’m reading.”
“Then go outside and read.”

And when I wasn’t reading, that’s exactly what I was doing. Running around the neighborhood with my brother and our friends playing games like tag or baseball and Eagle (my brother made this one up and it is still my favorite – divide your friends into two groups, have a dungeon and spend the rest of the day trying to capture the other team to put into the dungeon while simultaneously rescuing your team from theirs), going on adventures, riding our bikes. Our parents had to drag us inside when the sun went down. When we did watch television, we were allowed one hour a night. That was it. My mom didn’t budge on this one. Craig and I often tried to split it up. He’d watch one show and tell me what happened, I watched another and responded in kind. If nothing else, it enhanced our storytelling abilities.

In school, gym class was mandatory. Remember that? Do they even have gym these days? And hyperactivity? They didn’t throw a bunch of prescription drugs at you, they made you run a few extra laps around the track. These days, so many kids sit on their asses all day, stuffing their face with unhealthy processed food, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. Government cuts funding and gym class becomes abolished; fast food has become a staple in our lives, portion sizes have all been super-sized, and inactivity has become a past time. Hell, some have raised it to an art form. And then we cry about our overweight and obese kids.

I don’t understand how, with all of the health risks involved with childhood and adult obesity we aren’t rising up, as a nation, as a community, and doing something about this, getting involved, forcing a change. Why not turn our kids’ TVs off? Heck, get rid of them altogether, what kid really needs a TV in his room anyway? Come on out of your cave and join the family! Why not restrict access to the computer and video games? Do they need to maneuver a joystick for three hours on end? Will the world stop rotating on its access if they do? Why not insist gym be reinstated as mandatory so that at least for one hour a day our kids get some exercise? Why not force the school cafeterias to sell nothing but healthy food? Why don’t we do something other than read an article in the newspaper about how widespread and epidemic this has become and do something other than shake our heads and say, ‘Yeah, it’s gotten way out of control’.

I know, I know… I don’t have kids so what am I shooting my mouth off about? It doesn’t affect me. But it does. I keep thinking of what these kids have in store for their lives – everything from compromised health to the criticism and humiliation they’ll suffer at the hands of their peers. The scars of both will carry into their adulthood; it’ll lessen the enjoyment of their lives. I may not have kids, but I want the kids out there to have the best of what the world has to offer. They have a right to it, and we have a right as the generation they look to for guidance to see that they get it. But what are we doing about it? There has to be a solution.

18 comments:

Piss & Moan said...

I'll tell you why it is so pervasive ... the same reason kids spend all day playing video games, watching TV, surfing the net, getting illiterate and fat ... because they have bad parents! That's right, I said it - bad parents who are too lazy or self-involved to deal with their kids. It's easier to leave them to their own misguided devices then battle with them. Had a bad day at work? Go home, stick the kid in front of the tube with a Happy Meal and unwind. Feel better now? What about in a couple of years when your kid is being picked on at school because it looks like you rolled a Beluga out of the minivan or before prom when the grease zit outbreak ruins the biggest night of their young lives? You want a healthy kid folks, work at it. Get off your own asses and your kids will get off theirs ... AAAARGGGGHHHH!

Have a pleasant day. I'm taking my son for a bike ride.

Kelly said...

I knew I could count on you to say the things I was biting my tongue on. :->

Donna Grant said...

Kelly,

I've had the same rant for years, and I do have kids. I limit the amount of time my kids sit in front of the TV, and I don't have video games in my house. I do let my daughter on the computer for an hour a day, but its learning and not really play.

I was like you, forever outside and rarely in front of the TV. My folks didn't limit the amount of time I had in front of it, but I was so involved in dance that I rarely had the time.

Its a sad time what we're coming to.

And I agree with piss & moan. It is the parents.

Maxx said...

Just because you don't have kids doesn't mean you're not allowed to comment on what you see going on around you. I don't own a gun but that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to speak out against someone pointing one at me.

You're absolutely right on all counts. This is a major problem. I envision a somewhat Matrix like future where we're all just hooked up to our electronic teats after we're born because our muscle mass has fallen by the wayside, failed to evolve from lack of use. In a couple thousand years we're going to be blobs of gelatinous mush who can think and feel and speak, but that's about it. So we'll be hooked up to our own personal computer sytem that will do everything for us with just a mere thought. And we'll be fed intravenously... which will probably cure the weight problem now that I think about it. Oh the delicious irony of it all.

Maxx said...

And now from the other side of the fence... I'm the parent of an overweight child. There is a thing called 'genetics' people. Let's not forget that. And I'm sorry... but at the risk of offending people I care about... anyone who dares call me a 'bad parent' because my kid is overweight can take a flying fucking leap. I'm a single parent working full time and my life is devoted to raising my child to be the best human being she can be and if you're going to look at us in Sobey's or the park or the mall and automatically label me a 'bad parent' because she's overweight? There's more than just food that can contribute to a weight problem. Sure there are lots of kids out there who's parents don't do enough with them, I'm not disputing that. But not everything you see is that cut and dry. Open your minds people. Just cause you see a fat kid doesn't mean her parents don't care about her.

Lori said...

The problem you're talking about doesn't just boil down to 'bad parenting'. It has so many factors, and can usually be summed up with the word, excess. There’s excess tv/video/computer games, shows, choices. There are excess snacks, advertising, and options. There are excess hormones in the foods that were once deemed healthy. There’s excess costs that 'force' the adult population to work in excess to pay the excess bills. There is excess crime that keeps good parents from sending their kids outside all day everyday. It's a different world than it once was and the problem is that we as a nation are learning how to live healthy in this society.

I feel things are a changing already. Loads of families are making the switch to move away from electronic activities to physical ones but for lots of people it’s not that easy and it’s unfair to judge society as a whole when it comes to this issue, just as it is unfair to judge whole groups of people for any reason.

That said, as a parent I normally limit my kids to 2 half hour sessions of electronics a day, their choice: computer, xbox, or tv…all which are in a central part of the home and not in their bedrooms. They spend loads of time outside due to the fact we live in a rural area with little to no crime. As a family we bike, golf, swim and hikes and ‘try’ to stay away from fast foods and keep most snacks healthy. Did I do this a few years ago? No. Why not? Because I’m learning how to say no to the lifestyle that advertising companies are throwing down our throats, and how to live a simpler life in a society of excess.

Kelly said...

And in keeping with the "don't just shoot your mouth off, do something about it" mentality I was raised with, I decided to log onto the Big Bros/Big Sis website and look at their programs. They have one on there called Life Skills Mentoring which might just be right up my alley. I believe I'll see if I can get some information on that. Might as well put those public speaking skills to work before they grow rusty on me.

Also - I'm not a parent, so for me to stand there and tell someone they're a bad parent I think is a bit out of my ballpark. So I won't do it. Do I think parents who aren't as involved in their kids lives as they should be, change that fact, absolutely. Do I think parents who have disengaged from their kids' lives get plugged back in - you bet. I had a friend of mine tell me they usually let their kids have their own way because it's too hard to argue with them. That struck me, because I wasn't aware parenting was suppose to be an 'easy' job. Parenting is hard, no question. Doing it well, even harder. But in my opinion, when you take on the mantle, you take on the responsibility of playing hardball when you have to. Is it easy? Nope, don't expect so. Sometimes I imagine you come out at the end of the day feeling like you've gone a few rounds with a wilda beast and lost. But the kids are probably better for it in the end because at least they know you're in there and you're trying.

Christine said...

Wow Kelly what a topic!!! Not something that can be resolved in a day huh?!! The comments you received have been great. Being a mother of two, I can relate to a lot of what has been said. I find in our neighbourhood (which is semi-haven and lots and lots of kids) it is hard to find a kid outside. My kids are always outside either biking, playing with a wagon or playing soccer. They are pretty much used to the fact that I prefer them outside.

When they are at the sitter's I know they are in front of a TV and I know the treats they are being given aren't what I would be giving them so when I have them, I make sure that it is somewhat healthy. Treats nowadays are not really treats, they are a common part of their diets!!

Society and expenses (i.e. potential hike in power rates, milk, three bags for what $7.00?)play a large role as well. Now it is cheaper to buy junk food than fresh fruit and vegies (that never seem to last fresh any more).

Oh I could go on and on...

Kelly said...

It drives me crazy that healthy food is more expensive. I know what you're talking about. I've made an effort in the past couple of years to eat healthier but I still have a restricted budget. Trying to make that stretch and eat healthy is not an easy feat, and I'm just one person. I can't imagine trying to feed a large family like that with only so much cash.

Michelle said...

I'm hoping that fast food restaurants start offering more healthy choices. But school cafeterias are terrible. I know--I work at a school. They offer so much junk food, it's no wonder the kids will choose a slushee over an apple. :/

Nikki said...

As a parent with an underweight child, I have no idea what it's like to have to deal with one with the opposite problem. Mine could eat McDonald's every day for the next ten years and I doubt he'd gain an ounce.

However, we're not going to test the theory.

As a parent with a day job, I will say it's harder these days for everyone. In the old days, the mom would be at home and things like grocery shopping, housekeeping, errand running, etc. could get done during the day, leaving time at night for "kid" time.

But these days, two career families, or single parents who work, have it tough. It's hard to make all the time you want to for your kids. I know I don't even get home with my little guy to six or six thirty ... and sometimes McDonald's is just going to have to cut it.

And I have an only child, so there's no way I'm just sending him outside to play by himself. And although the thought of playing "dungeon" sounds intriguing ... at seven o'clock at night after a full day of work I'm thinkin' board games are a better route for us. I am the Queen of Chutes and Ladders. Do not mess with me people!

But I do agree with Lori on the "excess" stuff. On the weekends we definitely do a lot of outdoor stuff ... and in the summer it's even easier for us to go to the park and exercise more frequently. But it still is hard.

I guess the reason the problem's never solved is the reason so many of these Comments are so long today. Everyone feels differently about it and everyone has different circumstances. I know I feel good about my personal choices -- and that's all every parent can really hope to achieve -- creating a balance that doesn't tip the scales too far one way or the other.

Great topic Kelly!!

Lori said...

Kelly,

I love the idea of you being a big sister! You'd do a fab job!! What a great idea.

Nikki said...

I hope I didn't sound preachy there - definitely not what I was going for. I was aiming for clueless ... sounded more preachy though.

And I agree -- I think you should look into that Big Sister thing. I think you'd be fantastic!!!

Kelly said...

I have to figure out the time commitment part of it and if I can do it. But the life skills is more of a presentation type thing which would be a bit different from what I can tell. We'll see. I need to get Reno and my presentation for the writer's retreat in August out of the way before I commit to anything else first.

Maxx said...

There's always the Mentoring program which isn't as much of a time commitment.

Tess said...

Kelly - I hear you on this! Things have changed so much from the time my friends and I used to run around the neighbourhood in a pack. To the pool, to the park, hide and seek up and down the street etc. We walked to school (which isn't always possible these days) through grade 5. And my parents didn't allow us much tv at all. Not even Sat morning cartoons unless the weather was really bad and even then only an hour. My sister's three are all really fit - so full of energy they HAVE to run about. And they too have restricted TV/computer access and no video games. The 7yr old and the 4yr old just finished soccer. And either ride their bikes or walk to school except on really cold winter days (they're out on the Prairies).
I'm not sure why some parents find it easier to park their kids in front of the tv and let them eat so much junk. Though there are some children out there with glandular problems and genetic tendencies towards fat, so it's not always something that can easily be controlled. Still, a lot of this is so preventable.

Piss & Moan said...

Well, no one likes being called a bad parent so allow me to clarify my first shotgun blast of reality by saying a fat kid does not equal a bad parent(s) in every case. My point is that the explosion of obesity among North American youth is mainly the result of poor parenting.

There have always been kids who had to deal with glands and genes and medical issues, but that is factored in to the stats already. What we're talking about is the disturbing rise in the number of fat kids in the last 10-15 years.

The old saying goes anyone can have a child, but not everyone can raise one. I think being a parent should require a license of some sort.

I will post my own lengthy rant at www.singlewhitebraincell.blospot.com on this matter rather than waste Kelly's space.

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