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Weighty Matters

June 6, 2012

I will admit right upfront that I don’t have kids so have never faced what seems to be daunting task – getting the little ones to eat.

Maybe my childlessness explains why I’m a bit cynical about the whole issue of marketing unhealthy foods to kids. I’m not sure I understand the hoopla, like the fact that Disney’s new-but-not-very-aggressive ban on advertising of these junk foods in its programming made world headlines yesterday.

My first reaction to the issue of advertising these foods to kids is simply this: Just who’s buying the junk cereals, snacks, etc. that are making little kids fat? It is 5-, 8-, or 10-year-olds? No, it’s their parents.

Maybe I put more responsibility on parents than I should. Maybe I underestimate the power of marketing. After all, a boss of mine, a smart guy with two young children, once threw his hands up and said about junk foods, “They really want this stuff – what can you do?”

He was my boss, so I didn’t say what I was thinking: “How about not buying it?” Or “How about modeling good eating instead?”

I think these questions deserve attention. Parents are not the helpless slaves of their children, although they might feel like they are. Parents can make choices about food; they can learn how to read nutrition labels and not give in to the demands of their kids for stuff that could eventually kill them.

But here’s the thing. On the recent HBO special “The Weight of the Nation,” a father who despaired of his son gaining weight and having no interest in exercise eventually admitted that he himself had high triglycerides and unhealthy cholesterol numbers – issues that often stem from poor dietary choices. How can a parent with nutrition-related health issues expect more from his kid?

Of course, I realize the problem of childhood obesity is not just about permissive parenting. It has to do with school nutrition, food deserts, U.S. farm subsidies, and so on and so on right up the food chain. But as a nutrition counselor, I’m curious about how the family as a unit is eating, not just one family member… like a child. You can see a lot by using a wider lens.

If parents can be supported to model healthy eating and make it possible at home, kids just might have fewer unhealthy eating behaviors. Childbirth education and breast-feeding education have become commonplace, but after a fairly short time, parents are simply on their own.

Is there a way for communities to support parents on feeding/nourishing kids as they’re growing up?

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