Photo: Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock
First lady Michelle Obama asked for my help the other day. Well, she didn't personally reach out to me, but I got an email from her initiative Let's Move, so it was practically like a call from the White House. The first lady has embarked on a mission to empower parents, schools and communities to battle childhood obesity. She is advocating for a healthier, active lifestyle for parents and children, with smarter choices and more options for food in homes, schools and markets. I am totally on board with Let's Move. We are talking about my children's generation, and as a mom, I want not only my kids, but also their peers, to have the brightest futures possible.
I'm sure I don't have to go into all the grim statistics on childhood obesity. But here are a couple of whoppers: One in three American children is overweight or obese and 10 percent of babies and toddlers are dangerously heavy. Predictions for their future health include diabetes, heart disease and a lower life expectancy than our generation.
As Mrs. Obama acknowledges in her essay in Newsweek (March 22, 2010), the solutions to such a complex issue aren't simple and involve public policy decision makers, food companies, school districts and parents. That's where I come in because I'm a parent. I've been taking a look at what is happening in my children's world that might need changing.
And, I'm looking at you, unhealthy and ubiquitous snacks.
Moms, you know what I'm talking about: the unending parade of holiday goodie bags or post-soccer carb fests or classroom birthday cupcakes that find their way into our kids' mouths on a regular basis. We have become a nation of ritual snackers, digesting hundreds of empty calories as part of our routine whether we are hungry or not. Now, we are passing on this unhealthy tradition to our kids with what I call institutionalized snacks.
Go ahead, say it: I'm cranky and there is nothing wrong with the occasional cupcake. You're right, there is nothing wrong with the occasional cupcake, but our kids are exposed to cupcakes—or their caloric equivalent—several times a week! Do young athletes really need a giant bottle of sports drink after spending 22 minutes in the outfield picking daisies? How about the candy kids get at school on Halloween? Why do all after-school activities require bags of chips? It's like we can't make a move without food anymore. All the institutionalized snacking is affecting our kids' weight, according to a recent study. Snacks now account for a quarter of children's total calories.
Where are the parents in all this? Right there, stuffing the goodie bags! We treat being the snack mom as a marker of our worth, so the snacks get bigger and more elaborate. What started as oranges at halftime 20 years ago has spun out of control in terms of portion size and calorie content. Now it's mandatory pizza after practice.
So let's agree to stop with the institutionalized snacks. Parents, coaches, team moms, room reps, youth athletic leagues, classroom teachers: We all need to agree on this one. Let the kids play soccer and then go home and have lunch. Celebrate classroom birthdays once a month, instead of weekly. Create holiday celebrations in school that don't revolve around food. Provide healthy choices for after-school activities when kids are genuinely hungry. It's a small but important step forward in the huge battle to raise healthy kids.
And I'm willing to do my part. Are you?
Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, writer and talk show host. She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website, ChaosChronicles.com, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.
Published on March 24, 2010