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Busy Parents: The Real Cause of Childhood Obesity

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Posted on March 30 2010 6:59 am
Suzanne Venker, a.k.a. "No Bull Mom," is an author, blogger, and speaker. You can find her at www.suzannevenker.com.

I recently ended up in a long conversation with another mother at our children’s elementary school who told me about the ongoing conflict among the school’s board members about nutrition in the school. Apparently, the head of the committee wants all things sugar banned from the school — even lollipops for Valentine’s Day.

My friend — smart board woman she is –  realizes the absurdity of this goal and is trying to stop the other mother from making these unnecessary changes. “Childhood obesity cannot be resolved this way. It’s about what goes on outside school that matters,” she said.

Indeed. That’s why the new bill pushed through Congress Wednesday, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, pays lip service to a huge problem in this country but will do little to solve it.

“This bill puts us on the path to addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) concurs. The pending legislation will fight childhood obesity by “improving the health and livelihood of our children.”

This bill, by the way, will cost taxpayers an additional 4.5 billion — yes, that’s billion — over the next ten years. President Obama wanted the figure to be ten billion, but I guess the Senate couldn’t come up with the funds. (Gee, wonder why…) At present, nutrition programs cost 16.3 billion a year — which, apparently, is not enough to keep kids trim.

No surprise there.  Just as the alcoholic can’t get healthy by treating the symptom rather than the problem, so it is with childhood obesity. You can’t fight a social phenomenon as deeply rooted as this one with money. We must first name the problem if we’re going to solve it.

Childhood obesity has tripled over the past thirty years and we continue to blame the packaged food industry, as well as our sedentary lives. These things matter — but they wouldn’t matter nearly as much if parents were home to take control of their lives. We simply refuse to accept the correlation between fat kids and modern family life.

The truth is that kids became fat during the same period of time more and more mothers left their homes and went to work in mass droves. Put another way: No one’s in the kitchen anymore. Even Michelle Obama, who began the Let’s Move campaign which (presumably) resulted in this new bill, admits as much.

“Before coming to the White House, the president and I lived like most families: two working parents — too busy, not enough time, and I found myself unable to cook a good meal for my kids. Going to fast food more than I’d like, ordering pizza, and I started to see the effects on my family, particularly my kids.”

Americans need to wake up to the reason for childhood obesity. Yes, there’s too much packaged food; yes, businesses make it too easy to pick up fast food; yes, small portions have been replaced with gigantic food fests — but none of these things faze people who choose to move slower and take the time to eat right. Which means: It isn’t the existence of the food that matters; it’s the American lifestyle.

Progressives want you to believe the reason people are fat is because they don’t know any better. If we spend more money educating Americans, they will make better choices, we’re told. As Oprah’s favorite mantra goes: “When people know better, they do better.”

Hogwash. You can educate people until they’re blue in the face but in the end, people have to make up their own minds to be healthy.  Just last night on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution — the guy who throws all the food people eat in their homes on a giant table to show them what they’re putting in their bodies — the interviewer asked the obese mother if she just “didn’t know any better” before Jamie came along to help her. To which she says, “Oh, I knew the food wasn’t good for me.”

Getting soda machines out of our schools is fine. Putting more carrots and fewer tator tots on the school plates is great. But until or unless parents make up their minds to get healthy themselves and then teach their children how to be healthy — all of which requires one parent being home long enough to plan the meals, do the shopping, and cook the food — we might as well flush the 4.5 billion dollars down the toilet.

Yes, I know: This is easier said than done in a nation in which 40% of mothers today are single and must work — and  when two full-time working parents have so little time, but that’s precisely my point. We’re barking up the wrong tree.

Suzanne Venker is an author, blogger, and former teacher. You can find out more about Suzanne at www.suzannevenker.com.

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