December 29, 2010
To ring in 2011, letís raise a toast in unison to proclaim the most frequently made New Yearís resolution. Then promptly break it.
Yes, itís the season for the annual American vow to lose weight.
But first, letís argue about just how much leverage the government should exert to squeeze us back into our skinny jeans. Now that it is well established that a full two-thirds of adults and one-third of school-aged children are overweight or obese.
But here we are, with the presidentís signature barely dry on the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and the grousing is accelerating.
Nanny state politics run amok, decry the tea party activists. Get Michelle Obama and her gardening frock out of my childís choice of french fries, fried chicken and a cupcake. Unless someone puts a fork in this scheme, the sodium-and-sugar partisan cry, the White House will turn us into twig-gnawing vegetarians, with nothing but carrots left in the vending machines. What we stuff into our mouths is our choice ó often a bad choice, but ours to make!
Hold on, says the more reasonable side. If the government is subsidizing school meal programs, shouldnít there also be strong nutritional guidelines on exactly what is being dished onto the plastic school lunch tray? I think so.
The act strengthens the standards for school programs and also calls for steps to ensure that more of children who are eligible receive the meals. This is hardly Armageddon. Itís about feeding hungry children healthy food.
And given that childhood obesity and the resulting rates of diabetes and other health issues wind up costing taxpayers to treat the uninsured, wouldnít it be fiscally more prudent to nip this nutritional demon when our children are younger and less rotund?
Obviously, there is a balance to be struck. If people chose to gorge and not exercise, the government canít and shouldnít seek to stop every decadent morsel.
The differing views often come wrapped in rather nasty insinuations about the obese. (Iíll admit I prefer things wrapped in bacon.) Although it is often discussed in less than polite terms, correlations exist between obesity and race, class and education.
The highest rates of obesity occur among populations with the highest rates of poverty and the least education, more so among women. And people arenít crazy to note that families deemed ďfood insecure,Ē which basically means struggling to put meals on the table, are sometimes led by overweight adults.
Advocates have not done a sufficient job of explaining what they term the ďhunger-obesity paradox.Ē Basically, families often reach for easily accessible, calorie-dense but nutritional-vapid food. Which is why families that need anti-hunger programs the most may be headed by an obese parent.
Among kids who donít have a safe places to play or safe sidewalks, or who have fewer opportunities for organized sports, the impact multiplies. These children, partly because of poor exercise and eating habits set early in life, are at increased risk of being obese as adults.
Still, it also bears noting that, according to two new reports by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, all income and education levels are getting fatter. Our national weight problem isnít all because of economics, environments and a lack of healthier choices.
Being poor does not have to equate so strongly with obesity. It didnít used to. Back in my motherís day, she didnít raise her own chickens because she desired to nibble free range or organic fowl. Eggs provided income on the farm. Every now and then, the family would cull from the hen house to feed themselves.
Mom also knew the virtue of a good ham hock, a technique she passed to me. Give me a bag of split peas, an onion and a ham hock and Iíll provide enough soup to feed a moderate-sized family, very cheaply.
Somewhere along the way, these penny-wise eating skills have been lost amid fast food choices, an array of nutritionally questionable snacking options and, yes, laziness. If it takes some government spending to re-educate people, Iím all for reaping the benefits of a healthier nation.