Saturday, June 21, 2008

So Long but So Important

This is the world's longest post, I know. It means a lot to me and is important-read it if you have the time. I promise the next one will be short and will include a tasty new recipe!

magazine has never been on top of my reading list. I get so many damn food magazines I can barely get to anything else! Last week, however, my husband picked it up for me, knowing I'd be all over the cover article: "Our Super-Sized Kids". I've summarize some of the article's key points, below, but before I get there I should probably explain how I got on this soap box in the first place.

The movie Super-Size Me, by Morgan Spurlock, was really a turning point for me. I had an infant at the time and didn't have to think much about what he ate. Breast milk or baby formula? I did, however, get blown away learning about what happens to a person when he lives on fast food. No one thinks fast food is healthy (ok, that's probably a gross over-statement) but, seeing what is happening to our country because of cheap fast food is incredibly frightening.

I then read the books Fast Food Nation and Fat Land. Fast Food Nation talks about the effects of fast food on everyone from our kids to cattle ranchers to immigrant workers. Fat Land focuses on the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup in the processed foods we buy. The news is grim but both books are really accessible; easy to read and packed full of valuable information.

Two summers ago I read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. To say that the book is amazing does not to it justice. After I read it, I saw Michael Pollan at a dinner at Chez Panisse and I wanted to give the man a hug! (Thankfully I was wedged deep in a banquette and I couldn't get out.) The book is a must read for everyone, anywhere, who eats anything. It will not force you to become vegetarian (a fear I've heard from some people who haven't read it) and it won't make you feel like you can't eat anything you like. You will be a better consumer for having read it-knowing where your food comes from. His more recent title, In Defense of Food gives practical advice for using the knowledge you gain from reading the first book. You can certainly read it independently and I think it's 'manifesto', "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants", is one we can take to heart.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had access to all these movies and books. I am also lucky to live in a part of the country where 365 days a year I have access to the best meat, fish and produce of the season. I can find out easily where my food comes from and, in the event I really wanted fast food (a rare occasion, used mostly for a bad hangover), I have to drive a long, long way to find it. I avoid processed foods as much as possible, opting for whole foods that need to be cooked or prepared (or just eaten in their natural state, like a juicy ripe fresh peach). If there are more than two ingredients you don't recognize in your food, step away!!! If you see high fructose corn syrup, eat it in moderation, if at all. Start watching for it-it's not just in your sweets. Look for it in salad dressings, bbq sauce, yogurt, and might be surprised how much sugar you're eating when you don't expect it. If you divide the number of grams of sugar/serving by 4, that's how many teaspoons of sugar you are getting. "Yikes" is putting it mildly.

Having read the article in Time, I was honestly really sad. I can't say I was disgusted, although facts like 19% of American kids age 6-11 are obese might lead me there. I realized more than ever that cheap food is a huge driver of our nation's childhood obesity problem. Kids from lower incomes are far more likely to be overweight and kids from areas of the country that are closer to the poverty line are the same. It's not the only reason for concern. Kids are less active, parents are lazy, and bad food is cheap. Don't think because you live above the poverty line you are home free.

I highly encourage you to read the article yourself but, as an admitted skimmer, I know it doesn't always happen. For you other skimmers out there, I've gone through and highlighted some of the key points. A warning, they are scary-true, but scary.

**In 1900 the avg. college male in the US was 133lbs. By 2000 it was 166 lbs (similar increase in women)

**In 1971 only 4% of kids 6-11 were obese. In 2004 that leaped to almost 19%-and that's just obesity, not simply overweight

**90% of overweight (not just obese) kids already have at least one avoidable risk factor for heart disease

**The current generation of young people may be the first in American history to have a shorter life span than their parents

**The average American consumes 3800 calories a day (we need about 2350 to survive). Thinking twice about that 700 calorie Frappuccino? I remember someone once telling me that drinking one was like eating a few pieces of cake...glad I gave those up

**Kids who come home after an inactive school day usually spend three more hours just sitting in front of some sort of screen

**22.4% of kids living below the poverty line are overweight, compared to 9% of kids whose families earn at least four times that

**Activity is so important (for all of us). You can read a million books on diet and exercise but, just remember one simple thing, "calories taken in vs. calories expended" and you will stay in check

**"Between 1989 and 2005 the real price of fruits and vegetables rose 74.6% while the price of fats fell 26.5%" I can only imagine the price of corn (read: high fructose corn syrup) dropped to

**"This is not a disease that will be solved with medicines or vaccines. A social movement has to solve this." Joseph Thompson, director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement

**School is a huge problem-school lunches are pathetic and the food disguised as healthy is not even close. But, even after school, kids leave campus and you find them spending their money on donuts, sodas, and candy bars. Just hang out on Filmore and Chestnut in San Francisco around 3pm any weekday and you'll see this in action

**On average, American kids watched 40,000 commercials in 2000

**"Evidence shows that heavier children are 35% more likely to develop cancer in their later years"

**Only 36% of parents with overweight children identify them as such

**Pediatricians say that with such a huge increase in overweight kids, they can no longer spare a parent's feelings when addressing the issue-it's just too important

**Some obvious recommendations:
-kids should eat 5+ servings of fruit/veg a day
-kids should be getting 1+ hour of exercise a day
-kids should spend less than 2 hours in front of any kind of screen a day
-the entire family should also be doing these things!

**I've said this before but, think about the example you set for your kids. If you skip breakfast, eat a protein bar for lunch, and eat the ice cream right out of the pint container, what do you think your kids are going to do?

Let me say that I am far from perfect. My son eats goldfish crackers, loves ice cream, and does watch TV and occasionally play on the computer. We (almost) never eat fast food and I do all I can to make sure we keep things balanced and healthful as much as possible. We go to the park to run around and choose walking v. driving.

We need to get our kids in shape. We need them to understand the importance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. We need them to stay active. We need them to try new foods. We need them to eat less or no processed foods. We need to get better.


Liano said...

Does this include In-and-Out burger? I hope not. Really incredible writing. Thank you for the insight. You're a terrific advocate, a passionate mother and obviously a sensational cook. Kudos to you --of the most nature kind, of course.

Sara said...

amen, sister! :)

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