It’s Time to Fight For Our Children

A few weeks back I watched a really powerful video and since then I cannot get it out of my mind.  Which is abnormal for me, who has the memory of a goldfish. Those goldfish, man –  always leaving the lights on when they leave a room…I’ve pretty much recanted the video any time a topic even remotely related comes up, aaaaand other times when it would be considered totally random.

Take a look.

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Then I saw this one.

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And this.

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And this shocking one.

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And finally, the one that shook me to my core.

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These ads are part of a campaign called Strong4Life that the state of Georgia is pushing to fight Childhood Obesity.  And they literally brought me to tears. Then I got angry.

What I feel while watching these ads is sadness and anger.  Sadness for the child, who hasn’t been taught any different.  Sadness for the parent, who doesn’t love themselves enough to put their health first.  And sadness for our nation, that we have become addicted to the “easy way out”.

I feel anger towards the parents, who are choosing to teach their children that their body and health is not important, but instant gratification is.  Anger towards the food industry for convincing our families that convenience trumps quality.  Anger at our school systems for failing our children in the classroom and lunchroom when it comes to food education.Listen, I know the argument that “living healthy” is expensive.  That poverty is linked to obesity.  The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and The New York Times have all done stories on this very topic. Personally, I think that’s a cop out.  Right now at Walmart, I can buy a loaf of whole wheat bread, a jar of peanut butter, 7 bananas and a 2lb bag of sliced carrots for $9.56.  This food would last a family of 4 about 3 days. If I went to McDonald’s, I can order that family 2 Quarter Pounder Meals and 2 Happy Meals for $17.32.  You tell me which makes more sense.  And you know what? A gym membership might not be in your budget, but walking is free.  Running is free.  Parks are free.

I know the above are very general examples, but what I am getting at is that eating healthy and moving your body is a CHOICE.  Overeating, binging, and fueling your body with junk is not genetic or a product of your environment.  It is a CHOICE.  Living a sedentary life in front of the TV or computer is a CHOICE.  Choosing to eat nothing but Doritos, soda and candy when you are pregnant because you have “cravings” – thus feeding your baby these same things – is a CHOICE.  What you teach your children about these issues is a CHOICE.When I was little, I used to get so mad at my mom because she would never buy us sugared cereals.  I wanted Fruit Loops and my sister would ask for Count Chocula but Lil Kathy would always say no, opting for Grape Nuts or Kix instead.  I thought she was being mean and uncool, but now I realize she was fighting for us.  She was fighting for our hearts, our lungs, our muscles, our self-esteem and our futures.  She knew sending us off to a full day of school with a pure sugar in our bellies would set us up for failure.

Image: Harvard School of Public Health

Parents, this doesn’t have to be hard.  Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean buying only organic, eating tofu and never having a dessert again.  But it means taking the time to plan out a few meals a week that are balanced with protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  It means cutting out the fried, processed and chemical-ridden foods and replacing them with fresh, home-cooked options.  It means sitting down as a family and eating together, talking about what you are eating and why.  It’s about learning, together, that food is meant to be fuel for your muscles, lungs, heart and brain.  It’s explaining that food is not a crutch, a friend or a secret.  Remember Popeye?  He got his super-human strength from a can of spinach, not Nachos bel Grande.

Putting your body in motion doesn’t have to be hard, either.  Don’t get scared by the word “exercise” – just get moving.  If your little man likes to play video games, set a time limit for him.  After the time is up, send him outside to play.  If your little girl loves to read books, that’s great!  But after dinner, tell her to set aside the story for a 30 minute walk around the block as a family.  Not only will you guys be strengthening your hearts, you will be strengthening your relationship.  Talking to your kids, or simply listening, can go a long way.

If all of this seems too overwhelming or too hard, ask for help.  Rely on your church community, teachers, sports coaches, neighborhood YMCA, or the stranger in the grocery store who’s cart is full of fruit.  And if those people aren’t helping you – demand MORE from them.  Demand MORE from your school, your church, your friends.  Because what is happening now is killing our children, literally.

Did you know that according to the World Disasters Report, published annually by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC). there were 1.5 billion people suffering from obesity worldwide last year, while 925 million were undernourished? That means more people are dying from EATING THEMSELVES TO DEATH than from starving.  That’s….inexcusable. (Thank you, Working Out Sucks, for bringing this info and photo to my attention)Just as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution website states, “We’re losing the war against obesity in the US. It’s sad, but true. Our kids are growing up overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods, and today’s children will be the first generation ever to live shorter lives than their parents. It’s time for change. It’s time for a Food Revolution.”

Image: Jamie Oliver

We adults, we know better.  We are making the CHOICE to abuse and neglect our bodies.  But our children – they rely on us to make choices for them.  They are born needing our guidance, love and care. It is time we stepped up and owned up to our actions that are turning our “chubby” children into obese adults.  And yes, it might be hard.  Your kids might think you are mean and uncool for making healthy choices for them.  But they are kids, and they will get over it.  Show them that you love them enough to fight for their future, and your own.

I believe in hard truths and tough love when it comes to saving someone’s life and the lives that come after them.  We need to stop dancing around the issues and making excuses, stops pointing the finger at government, big business and advertisers.  We must start making ourselves face up to our responsibilities as a parent, friend, teacher, coach, grandparent, uncle, aunt, sister, neighbor – we need to take care of our children.  No one else will.

I am sure there are some of you that think the ads above are over the top and the organization is out of line.  There are probably more of you that don’t agree with what I’ve written here.  And because of those things, it’s taken me longer to write this post than it should have.  I was afraid of backlash, of being called names, of being told I come from a place that could never understand what it’s like.  But my silence in order to save my pride just makes me ignorant and blind to the cause. So I am speaking out.  As more and more stories hit the news about childhood obesity or obesity in general,  my heart hurts and I get frustrated to my CORE, because it doesn’t have to be this way!

So I am offering to help.  If you don’t have people in your neighborhood or life that you can turn to, someone to show you what to buy in the grocery store or fix your child for lunch, someone to tell you to choose LIFE over LARGE FRIES – I will.  Send me an email and we will do this together. But. If you DO have people in your life to teach you or possess the knowledge to do better, but choose not to…than the cycle will continue generation after generation with only you to blame. But see, I believe in you. And those little faces believe in you.  It’s time you did, too.

I'll fight for you.