Remember when our generation was young, and fast food was a once-a-month treat? Remember when mom didn’t allow sugared cereal in the house, so you had to sleep over at a more liberal-parented friend’s house to enjoy it? Recall when soda was something we got only at the movies or on special outings? Things have dramatically changed for kids (and grown-ups) since the ’70s.
I think the downward spiral for my diet began in the ’80s, when I realized that I could buy as much Mr. Pibb as I wanted during lunch in high school. I think that, for me, a sugary diet was perceived more as liberation from nutritional tyranny, so I really went into an all-out dietary rebellion when I hit adulthood. I think our whole generation did. That’s because the marketing of unhealthy products and advertising appealing to youth went into overdrive during that time.
That was when McDonald’s was magical, colorful, and innocent, and a child must have brought home one hell of a report card to have been taken through those golden arches. Man, you never heard crying there, or a kid saying what he didn’t want; it was all smiles because you never knew how long it would be before you’d be brought back.
Fast forward to 2011. Take a look around. We came back again and again to the point where fast food and sodas became part of our everyday American experience. Mom went back to work, and she and Dad are both tired at the end of the day and just want to get inside, take off their shoes, and sit with the family on the couch by 8 to watch a favorite TV show and with noisy wrappers unfolding to warm, golden “goodness.” And it’s become a trap of convenience.
Take, for example, a conversation I overheard one day at McDonald’s:
Teenage brother: “Gah, I can’t believe you can get 50 McNuggets for $11. Hand ‘em over!”
Young adult sister: ”Slow down, fool! There’re only 37 left!” (to which the table busted out in laughter)
There is no longer any way to put it nicely. HealthyAmericans.org (Trust for America’s Health), in their latest report, frankly hashes over the data for us. Read the entire report — “F as in Fat 2011: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future“ — when you have a good chunk of time. It could change your life for the better.
For now, take a quick glance and then wince at this shocking data:
WHOA! Makes me want to move my family and myself to Colorado for the healthy peer influence.
Suggestions in the report for reversing these alarming trends of grossly increased BMI, diabetes, and hypertension including initiatives for:
- improving dietary offerings in schools;
- increasing availability of whole foods and fresh produce in local markets,
- increasing physical activity in schools and after-school programs,
- developing communities designed to encourage exercise and transportation on foot,
- incentives to buy healthier foods through taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages; and
- lessening the influence of unhealthy food marketing on youth, its main target.
If our generation doesn’t get this nationwide obesity epidemic radically under control and reverse the effects that fast food, processed foods, and sugared drinks have had/continue to have on our children, then this deadly legacy is what they will remember us for. I hope the nursing homes serve us diets considered more thoughtfully than we have served our kids because, honestly, at this rate, it doesn’t look like our kids will be ambulatory enough or possibly even alive to take care of us.
I saw this data for last year so; for the last year, my own family has greatly improved our habits. For one thing, we often replace chips (which are getting too expensive anyway) with a piece of fruit alongside a sandwich, as well as limit to one fairly portioned plate rather than allow the usual seconds. We also have soda much less often and, when so, try to limit it to the weekends.
Also, we are stressing the importance of a non-processed colorful plate – the more natural organic, natural colors on their plates, the healthier. Our routine is becoming less about convenience, more about quality where food choices are concerned. And, mostly, we have cut down on our carbohydrates, as I teach them to limit as much as possible the colors white and yellow from their plates — such as corn, rice, pasta, white breads, and cheeses.
Often cutting the veggies and fruits together has become a nice habit to share the cooking duties and leads to enjoyable end-of-the-day quality conversations and sensory appreciation (“Ahh! I just love bell peppers. Here — taste!,” or, “There is nothing better than a ripe mango,” as we share turns over the sink getting every last bit off the skins and laughing)..
As for the exercise, we’re getting there slowly but surely — we’re venturing outdoors more frequently these days. My youngest has gotten much more active on his bicycle (no thanks to me there), and one of my teenage sons has passionately taken to longboarding, finding himself out sometimes a couple of hours enjoying the weather and movement each day.
My other son, a bit less physically active like his mom, is at least up to training his puppy in the yard each day, filling his pool and chasing him, and taking him on walks. I’ve seen less couch potato (notice it’s also carb!) time and video game time during set times of day, so this is some progress.
Please share your ideas for better habits for improving your daily diet and fitness regimen. I think we all need as much advice and hope as we can get. For today, though, let’s start with merely heeding the overwhelming research and perilous predictions; that’s at least a start.
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