The Challenge to Parents — Facing the Facts

Hydra

The challenge? In the struggle against childhood obesity, there are a hundred challenges. It’s like the mythological Hydra, the beast with many ferociously fanged heads, and every time a hero would cut one off, it would grow back. Some days are like that, right?

One of the hardest things for parents is fessing up that they don’t have all the answers. Nobody likes to admit to being wrong. It’s also an authority issue. A lot of us were raised by parents who always knew best, and we had to put up with it or pay an unpleasant price.

Now it’s our turn to know best, and be the shot-callers. The flaw in that reasoning is, parents don’t always know best. Look at the evidence.

Just a couple of small examples… This is what Telegraph medical editor Rebecca Smith learned from Charlotte Evans, of the University of Leeds:

One per cent of children’s packed lunches met all the food-based school meal standards for school meals in England, evidence that the quality of food in children’s packed lunches is poor. Few lunches contained all five healthy food groups (starch, protein, vegetables, fruit and dairy), but most lunches contained restricted foods and drinks such as crisps or cakes. Few children were provided with vegetables or salad in their lunch..

This was based on an analysis of 1,300 brown-bag (or Avatar lunchbox) lunches, the results of which were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health for all to see. An interesting footnote is that girls bring more healthy food to school than boys, and proceed to eat more of it. About four million British schoolkids bring lunch from home, and those lunches are woefully inadequate, stuffed with sweets and processed, salt-laden pseudo-foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages; bereft of fiber, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin A, or any redeeming qualities generally.

Who packs those lunches? Parents, or kids with parental supervision. Or kids with no supervision.

Lisa Johnson gave a sad account of a crusading British chef’s attempt to turn America around:

The finale of ‘Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution’ ended on a truthful, if not entirely positive, note. Jamie admitted that the school lunch program had begun to reintroduce processed foods back into the system and that brown bag lunches had increased because the kids didn’t like the new food as much as the old food.

What’s the problem? The parents. When a visiting chef opens 40 brown bags and finds only one piece of fruit, something is wrong on the home front. And what is the point of attempting to ban processed foods from school-cafeteria serving lines, if kids are going to bring the same banned substances from home?

Why do parents supply their children with hyperpalatable, potentially addictive junk food? A school administrator might wish to have an enforceable rule against kids bringing in unacceptable lunches, but it probably wouldn’t fly.

The general situation is not helped when a public figure like Sarah Palin (remember her?) announces that parents know best. Actually, parents do not always know best. The challenge is to not confuse political rhetoric with reality. The followers of Palin and her ilk insist on interpreting her meaning as, “Don’t let the government tell you what to do! Go ahead and feed your kids junk!”

What these misspoken politicians probably mean, even though they may not realize it themselves, is something closer to: “If Americans are sincerely interested in keeping the government out of their business, this means parents must take full responsibility for doing everything in their power to keep the kids on a healthy track, so the dreaded nanny state will have no excuse to interfere.” It’s called self-governance, and it’s not a bad idea.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Parents giving children unhealthy packed lunches research finds,” The Telegraph, 01/12/10
Source: “Food Revolution: Jamie Oliver vs. the USDA,” That’s Fit, 04/26/10
Image by Chadrew, used under its Creative Commons license.

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