There’s no sugarcoating it—obesity is a national issue. According to CDC stats, over 93-million American adults were obese as of 2016, and 1 in 5 children were considered obese as well. Along with the myriad of health problems that can arise from obesity, such as cardiovascular issues and early death, obesity costs Americans around $147 billion in healthcare expenses annually.
There have been several efforts to curb these numbers, with programs like former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, targeted specifically at kids. Now, Weight Watcher’s Kurbo app aims to continue the fight against childhood obesity.
The problem with Kurbo and similar things like it, though, is that they’re not a solution, but a bandaid—and a flimsy one at that.
In my experience working with young kids during high school and college, I learned that they’re pretty perceptive, and they remember things way longer than you’d expect them to. Imagine telling a child, then, that they need to use this cool new app that tells them what they should be eating and encourages them to keep track of every meal. They’ll obviously know that something must be wrong, and worse—they’ll think that something must be wrong with them.
Cue disordered eating, feelings of shame around their bodies, and likely resentment toward their parents/caretakers when they’re older.
Children shouldn’t have to be held accountable for their diet and weight. That’s their parents’ responsibility. Young kids especially can’t just hop over to the grocery store or operate an oven—they’re reliant on their parents to make the healthiest choices for them. Even the parents who don’t have the time to cook balanced meals at home should at the very least educate their kids on how to make good choices. Oh, and we collectively should stop using sweets and other junk foods as pacifiers or daily “treats.” It just creates a hard-to-break sugar addiction from a young age.
But zooming out from that, how can we as a society help provide better solutions to this problem? In my opinion, there are three smaller issues we need to tackle first: food deserts, school lunches, and our culture around food.
Food Deserts and Swamps
If you’ve ever taken a nutrition or city government class, you might’ve heard the terms “food desert” and “food swamp.” Put simply, they are areas with little to no access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food choices. Often, these areas will only be served by fast-food joints.
It’s no secret that the best and healthiest grocery stores (Whole Foods, for example) are only found in affluent areas. If more health-food stores chose to open locations in underserved areas, this could help parents and children have better access to a balanced diet.
Additionally, things like community gardens and communal pantries are great ways to give access to fresh fruits and vegetables, provide educational opportunities, and foster community growth.
Growing up, my biggest memory associated with public-school lunches was that on Thursdays in middle school, we were served green hot dogs. Seriously—the meat had green and gray patches on it.
Horrendously low-quality school lunches don’t make sense to me. Of course, serving our students higher quality meals would cost more money, but won’t we save more in healthcare expenses in the long run?
For some kids, free school breakfasts and lunches are the only meals they’ll get in a day, so why wouldn’t we want to make sure they’re the best they can be?
With all these photos circulating of awesome-looking school lunches around the world, we should feel ashamed of what we feed our students.
Change always starts with education.
If we prioritize educating ourselves and our loved ones on how to make conscious, healthy food choices, we’ll be much better off as a whole.
For the most part, kids follow what they’re taught. If they’re taught that the above picture is what they should be eating, that’s what they’ll want to eat every day. If they’re taught something different, they’ll want something different.
Lessening the effects of childhood obesity is a pretty monumental challenge we’re faced with as a culture, but by speaking out and asking for change, we can make things better moving forward.