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Busy Parents: The Real Cause of Childhood Obesity

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

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

38 Responses leave one →
  1. March 30, 2010

    "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"

    Yeah, how dare businesses be allowed to sell to consumers products which they desire to purchase?! Thank God the federal government is here to impose your lifestyle on everyone else! How is this different than the "progressive" argument that we're all too stupid to choose what to put in our mouths and we need smart people like yourself to tell us what we can and cannot do?

  2. March 30, 2010

    Very interesting, and the fact that parents are busy carting their kids around after school to all their after school activities (uh, kids are busy too) might play a factor in childhood obesity. But like anything else, you can't just blame one thing, it's a lifestyle.

    There was an interesting little study released lately where investigators looked at the painting of the Last Supper and compared the size of the plates in it to 52 paintings that have been done between then and today.

    As you can imagine they found that plate size increased 66% and bread size 23% over the millennium.

    Have to keep portions in check to lose weight.

    Oh, and exercising can't hurt either!


  3. March 30, 2010

    There is nothing wrong with a woman who also is a mother that wants to work. I solved the problem by having my wife work at home. That way, she would be at home for them in times needed. That solution worked, but when the job takes precidence over rearing your family, I have difficulties dealing with that scenario because often times things got out of control and I was forced to intervein and became the bad guy.

    You see, we have too many outside agencies tugging us in all directions with suggestions pointing out what we as parents are doing wrong. We tend to take the easiest path given to us not considering long range effects, just the immediate cure. Now, we have a bigger problem, the government looks over our shoulders and we no longer know what to do. Well, neither does our government. They just want us all to spend money and buy more toys.

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2015/03. Is its parent directory writable by the server?
      March 30, 2010

      Well how lucky for your wife and your family that you were able to solve the problem for her! You are completely missing the point. Most women in this country MUST work and don't have a handy husband who can just "solve the problem" for them.

      Jobs are not taking precidence (sic) over rearing your family, working women need smart, creative solutions to keep their families happy and healthy while they labor to put that food on the table.

      • March 31, 2010

        Well, Sandra, something is wrong with the family structure in our society.

        Oh, did I misspell presedence.

  4. March 30, 2010

    Whilst I agree that packaged foods are one of the major contributors to not only childhood but also overall obesity there are other culprits. The biggest one of those is HFCS which has (because it is cheaper for the manafacturers) replaced cane and beet sugar. The other one is GM soy, the health effect of which has never been studied before it was approved for human consumption. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rise in consumption of these two products is on the same scale as the rise in obesity.

    • March 30, 2010

      Dear Cicciao,
      Now that you don't have thimersol to kick around anymore, let's go after GM soy, HFCS, fast food, and other red herrings.

  5. March 30, 2010

    The answer us simple and unstopable. To wit: History is the story of wooden shoes going uphill and satin shoes going downhill. The need for self-destruction is in the genes. Just look around yourselves. It can't be abrogated.
    See it and weap.

  6. March 30, 2010

    Why oh why?

  7. March 30, 2010

    It was a very simple paragraph. So what gives?

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2015/03. Is its parent directory writable by the server?
      March 30, 2010

      Intense Debate will pick various comments to be held for moderation. I've approved it and it's up now. Sorry for the confusion.

  8. March 30, 2010

    Didn't the obesity epidemic start about the same time Flouride was introduced into our drinking water? I heard a scientist on talk radio who said that back in the 1930's germany experimented with Flouride and the rats who were fed Flouride literally ate themselves to death. They ate continuously until the died fo extremem obesity. I started drinking distilled water and discovered that I no longer had to be stuffing my face. I could get up after eating a full 5 course meal and my first thought would be "What can I eat next?" Is flouride the culprit? It has not eliminated tooth decay so why are we being forced medicated with it?.

  9. Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2015/03. Is its parent directory writable by the server?
    March 30, 2010

    I think you have to be careful with this argument…it doesn't do a damn bit of good to heap even more guilt on those of us (women) who MUST work to support our families. Let's discuss perhaps the high cost of eating healthy as opposed to the low cost of pre-packaged high fat high salt options. Certainly the gov't doesn't need to be involved but criticism of hard-working parents without offering viable solutions is nothing more than lip service.

    • March 30, 2010

      The gov't is already involved by subsidizing corn and wheat (components of packaged foods). So, on one hand, the gov't is spending money to encourage consumption of certain foods…and on the other, the gov't is spending money to discourage consumption of the same foods.

    • March 31, 2010

      part of the conversation needs to include the examination of what constitutes the need for both parents to work. life styles often can be adjusted down to accomodate a parent at home more to care for their own kids. it's all about prioritization of our values. gov't can NEVER offer viable solutions to issues within the family and to expect it to do so is foolish. we are responsible for ourselves and our families. it is up to us to evaluate our situation, prioritize, and then take charge and make it happen.

  10. March 30, 2010

    I work in the school district lunch program. It never ceases to amaze me how a few parents insist that we have to take away foods the kids will eat. They want no salt, no white bread, no sugar, no fats, no meats the list keeps growing. The kids will not eat what they do not like – big fat period.
    We have to require two items per lunch tray but we can not make them eat it. Just try that. The parents would there having a fit. How dare we make them eat what they do not want.
    IF some of these nimrods had their way we would serve only whole wheat and vegetables. They will rebel and not eat anything.
    The students rebelled at whole wheat taco shells. The school district relented and went back to the stander white flour shells. At least this way they are eating something.

    • April 1, 2010

      It is easy as a parent to get caught up in life and run out of time. Often we see vans in the fast food drive-thru ordering for a family of four. The typical excuse when asked is, “Dinner takes too long to make, and there is no time before the soccer game, Girl Scout meeting, swim class, and then work.” America lives for the ‘go’ lifestyle, and companies have adapted their products for families on the go. We as Americans constantly rush through life never looking back at what we are doing to our bodies. Americans have transitioned from being overweight to being morbidly obese as a result of advances in technology, our lazy habits, and our poor diets. We as a nation have seen an increase in many chronic illnesses that are correlated with obesity such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Ogden, Carroll, Curtin, Lamb, & Flegal, 2010, p.245). Additionally, more orthopedic joint replacements are needed by obese individuals due to increased strain from weight. This epidemic of obesity and its adverse effects are not only hurting the adult population, these diseases and injuries are overtaking the youth as well. Do we realize what is happening to ourselves and our children? Western culture has allowed us to be overly comfortable, cheap, lazy, and unhealthy, and in turn has created an epidemic of obese children that are indeed victims of child neglect.
      America’s obsession with convenient, low priced, extra value meals came from forceful marketing that has caused a lack of motivation, opportunity, and encouragement to engage in behaviors that are healthy for weight management (Crawford, Rauzon, Ritchie, Wang, Woodward-Lopez, 2009, p. 372). It seems appealing to eat fast food or a microwave meal for dinner. and it even tastes good, but the nutrients a growing child needs are not found in a microwave meal. Allowing a child to eat French fries everyday at school is a problem. Immature joints, heart, and lungs are not made to deal with such high weight capacities. The time and money saved by not cooking dinner is essentially taken from the life of the child.
      The example lifestyle that a parent or guardian leads is crucial to the child they are raising. If a child sees their role model as a couch potato they are more likely to become a couch potato. The 2007 -2008 obesity rates for adults reached over 33% in America, these statistics also show a positive correlation with many chronic illnesses and orthopedic joint replacements (Ogden, Carroll, Curtin, & Flegal, 2010, p. 235). The cure to this epidemic starts with the parent. Who better to take care of your body than you? Who better to teach your children than you? America has become so money hungry that we have lost our concept of time, and more importantly our self respect. Many people say that it is just the way society is these days, and we can’t change the products and services provided by restaurants, schools, and various companies. If more parents and guardians took a stand and didn’t buy fast food or processed meals than these companies would be forced to make changes to their products. Often, the parent or guardian argues that what children eat is out of their hands because they are always at school.
      Most children are at school for majority of their day. It was found that over fifty-percent of students eat one of their three major meals at school, and more than ten-percent eat two of their major meals at school (Crawford et al., 2009, p.374). The school is not only teaching education but nutritional habits by what they sell on campus (Crawford et al., 2009, p. 374). Are the schools doing their part in fulfilling nutritional requirements? This is the responsibility of the parent or the guardian of the child. Parents and guardians need to work with the public schools to make a change in what they serve the children. All children are minors and are unaware of what could happen to their health if they eat a poor diet.

  11. March 30, 2010

    Now this is something I would consider when I am going to have a kid of my own.

  12. March 30, 2010

    The tragedy here is that the money was not funneled into mandatory school physical edication programs were the lack of activity and exercise could be even modestly addressed. Now, addressing HFCS, many nutritionalists and dieticians do believe that there is a cause and effect with HFCS being added to virtually all food. Studies are incomplete and prove difficult in the face of the corn and growers lobby that will seek to protect a very profitable product. School lunch quality and nutritional content has changed as funds from the programs diminishes. Content now focuses on cheap and questionable nutritional value with the continued provision of the junk food that meet the demands of the kids.

    • March 31, 2010

      In pretty much every state physical education IS mandatory. If a fat kid doesn't want to run in gym class, I doubt $4.5b is going to solve the problem.

  13. March 30, 2010

    I was born in the 1950's and when I was a kid playing outside with my friends, we rarely saw a kid that was overweight, my father would simply not let us in the house so we found a lot of activities and games to pass the time and we had fun. The problem was the opposite, most of us would look too skinny and It didn't matter what and how much we ate we would burn the calories in no time flat. I don't see this so much with kids these days, parks are almost empty the kids are spending their time in front of the computer. Letting the government dictating the eating habits for kids is again another way to do the parenting for the parents.

    • March 31, 2010

      yep, sounds like my childhood, too. and i think the way we "warehouse" our children today in daycare and after school care doesn't help at all.

  14. Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2015/03. Is its parent directory writable by the server?
    March 30, 2010

    With respect to children not being outside after school and being in front of a screen instead: Yes, this is the other factor re this issue — and, again, it can only be remedied by having a parent at home to get children outside and away from the TV/computer screen. The government can't help with that either.

    Bottom line: It's about absentee or busy parents.

  15. March 30, 2010

    The "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010"? I thought that the problem was obesity? Are the children too fat or are they going to bed hungry at night?

    Do we have an epidemic of starving fat children?

    I'm confused.

    • March 30, 2010

      I felt the same way reading an interview with Michelle Obama months ago. She began bemoaning the obesity epidemic and ending with the children who have no access to food. So which is it? Will this end up like the War on Drugs where money intended for education and rehabilitation of citizens now goes toward locking same in prison and "donating" to Mexicos efforts? The way this administration is speeding the country toward third-world poverty being overweight may be a temporary benefit to survival.

    • March 31, 2010

      yeah…it is confusing. who knew it could be both ways?? unfortunately it's all about controlling people, not health. if we were really serious about childhood obesity, we would work harder at having safe communities where kids could run and play together. all these after school activities look to me like further warehousing of our children. wouldn't it be nice to have life slow down enough where families could actually interact and kids could play outdoors with neighbors? there once was a day when the rule of the house was to be in by dinner time…

      • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2015/03. Is its parent directory writable by the server?
        March 31, 2010

        My follow up piece to this article will be posted tomorrow morning. Its message is exactly what you've written here.

  16. March 31, 2010

    Get rid of the TV and video games, or if they don't have them yet don't get them! They rot the brain anyhow. Government has no business in the larders of the nation, now, thanks to government run health care, they want to have a say what sits in your fridge and pantry.
    As for the working mother and fast food who says that fatty food is the only option? There are all sorts of take away foods not just McDonalds and Kentucky Fried, Chinese, Italian, East Indian, submarine sandwiches, salads, nobody is forcing anyone to buy the bad stuff.

    • March 31, 2010

      I just recieved a notice from the White House. Obama is telling students what he expects of them under new educational guidelines. Our worries are a moot point; sit back and relax..

  17. March 31, 2010

    Please do not say that most women who work, have to work. You make a choice. My family or my job. Everyone has the opportunity to move somewhere else to make this work. My son and his wife are moving to Texas and not staying in CA. There is always a choice. ALWAYS. The left has made it sound for years like there is no choice. And single mom's with children? How many of those never got married? That was also a choice. If you cannot make the marriage commitment, what makes anyone think they can make the child commitment? I have listened to this debate for the last 28 years, the length of my marriage and I am sick and tired of hearing it.

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2015/03. Is its parent directory writable by the server?
      March 31, 2010

      Exactly, Debbie. I will be addressing this in tomorrow's post.

  18. April 1, 2010

    Aside from nutrition, the public schools need to allow the children to exercise and support physical education programs. Children need to be active. With recent cuts in physical education programs this seems impossible. If parents would speak out about the importance of physical education in their children’s lives the public schools wouldn’t make cuts in these areas. It has also been noted that various cuts in education have limited the funding for after school sports programs causing parents to pay for their child to be on a school sports team. This is essentially making it impossible for struggling families to partake in school sports events. However, a difference could be made if parents and guardians demanded change for the benefit of their children. With financial budgets growing tighter and the American lifestyle growing faster who can we blame? Many point fingers at societal norms.
    Throughout the progression of western culture, technology, television, video games, and the internet have impacted the physical activity level of children. Although many children still participate in sports they spend much more time inactive as opposed to children 20 years ago. Today, the typical child comes home from school and spends hours sedentary because of these new activities. However, if the parent or guardian took the time to make healthy living more appealing these sedentary activities would seem less attractive. Keeping a child active makes them healthier and helps them live a better life. The average child should perform 60 minutes of structured activity every day, and should additionally take part in 60 minutes to several hours of unstructured physical activity each day (Dennison & Faith, 2009, p. 317-318). Children should not be sedentary for over an hour at a time; it was found that children in daycare were typically sedentary for eighty percent of their day (Dennison & Faith, 2009, p. 317-318). To prevent this parents and guardians need to be clear with their expectations of the child at home, making house rules to regulate nutritional and activity habits. Additionally, the guardian needs to be involved in the structure of various programs, and care services to ensure their children are not neglected.
    The question isn’t whether childhood obesity is a problem; the question is, is it considered neglect? If we look at this issue more closely we can see that this is truly neglect. Everyone is busy and always on the go; that is the American lifestyle, but a guardian cannot use American culture as a scapegoat; there is no excuse for neglect. A guardian that doesn’t have the time to feed their child a healthy meal, or that fails to encourage an active healthy lifestyle, or that is simply uninvolved in the child’s daily life is setting them up for failure. This lack of time we consistently see makes the parent or guardian unfit. Every child deserves to live a healthy life, with equal opportunities. If the parent or guardian doesn’t take responsibility to help them live healthy they will be at a higher risk to die young and develop many medical problems.

    Work Cited
    Crawford, P. B., Woodward-Lopez, G., Rauzon, S., Ritchie, L., & Wang, M. C. (2009). The role of public policy in addressing the pediatric obesity epidemic. In Handbook of childhood and adolecent obesity (pp. 371-386).
    Dennision, B. A., & Faith, M. S. (2009). Prevention of childhood obesity in childcare settings. In Handbook of childhood and adolecent obesity (pp. 313-330).

    Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Curtin, L. D., Lamb, M. M., & Flegal, K. M. (2010). Prevalence of High Body Mass Index in US Children and Adolescents, 2007-2008. The Journal of The American Medical Association, 303(3), 242-249. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from

    Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Curtin, L. D., & Flegal, K. M. (2010). Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008. The Journal of The American Medical Association, 303(3), 235-241. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from

  19. April 16, 2010

    not only the workin women but our educational system to needs some changes.what children do in their schools.sitting and readin is not just what education means .so we have to implement play therapies to the education that indeed helps childre ntyo dewvlop intrest in out door games.through this way we can reduce the occurane cof obesity to an extent

  20. August 21, 2010

    I think there's another force at play in the childhood obesity problem. So many mothers are paranoid about their kids getting grabbed off the street by a stranger that they won't allow their kids to walk (even two blocks) to school, even though stranger abduction is a relatively rare. When my kids were in elementary school there was a tremendous amount of "peer pressure" among the neighborhood moms.

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