Obesity. The term has come to define American society, and it comes as no surprise. From holidays to birthdays, retirements and homecomings – we, as a culture, have turned to food as a method of celebration and gratuity. We bake cookies and pies to welcome new neighbors; we gather around a table filled with meats and breads and sweets for the holidays; we bake cakes and give pastries as birthday wishes. The American culture has become a culture of food, and while this isn’t necessarily a negative quality, it becomes less a matter of when we eat, but rather what we eat (and, more importantly, how much we’re eating).
Take, for example, the typical American portion size. In his book The End of Overeating, David Kessler quotes a study done by measuring the popcorn eating habits of Americans at theatres: “People who were given the big buckets ate an average of 53 percent more than those given the medium-sized buckets. Give them a lot, and they eat a lot.” 1 The abundance of food – especially rich and indulgent foods – has become a threat to the health of the general population of Americans – the more we have at our disposal, the more we are going to eat, and the more health will decline across the country, causing widespread concern among health professionals and citizens alike.
Of course, the obesity crisis isn’t only seen among adults – childhood obesity has nearly doubled in children, and has quadrupled in adolescents over the past thirty years.2 These statistics are not only shocking, but they continue to increase each year. More and more children are becoming less active, but are eating more, as they are exposed to heavily processed, sugar-filled options. This increase in adolescent obesity is not only an issue during their adolescence, but will cause major health issues later in life, putting them at a higher risk of ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, and other weight-related health issues.3 So, while it may be preferable to bribe the screaming child in the grocery store with a candy bar for good behavior, it’s not necessarily the most responsible choice in the long run.
Take, for example, the differences in French children and American children: French children are taught not to snack – they eat three meals a day, and rarely will have a late afternoon snack. This is a stark contrast to the average American child, who is encouraged to eat three meals a day, plus multiple snacks throughout the day (roughly every two hours). 4 The reason? Americans are told by health professionals and fitness “experts” that they must eat every 2-3 hours in order to keep a healthier rate of metabolism5, but in reality, these habits are more harmful than beneficial – the consistency of snacking throughout the day causes eating to excess, and when comparing cultural eating habits and statistics of adolescent weight, there is a clear correlation to adolescent obesity rates. Those who are raised to eat healthier, more manageable portion sizes – and eat less frequently – are found to have healthier weights and better long-term health, while those who are raised to eat frequently and conveniently tend to weigh more, and as a result, carry more health risks throughout their adult lives.
There is no question that childhood and adolescent obesity is a national health issue that must be addressed. The epidemic is growing rapidly each year, shortening life spans and carrying major health risks into adulthood. These individuals are at risk of premature death, as well as passing these health ailments and poor eating habits on to their children, further increasing the frequency of childhood obesity cases. So, what can be done? For starters, children should be given boundaries when it comes to their eating habits – they should be given healthier options, and snacks should be given less frequently, ideally consisting of fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables rather than cookies and chips.
Another cure: turn off the TV, take away the video games, and get moving. Motivating children to get out and get moving is the number one way to reduce these health risks; it also benefits parents, who are also recommended to exercise daily. Whether it’s a walk after dinner or a bike ride in the park, the message is simple: eat wisely and get moving! Don’t let our children become just another statistic – get active, and provide them with the opportunity to live a longer, healthier, and happier lifestyle.
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