The mission by Michelle Obama to fight child obesity got me to thinking where the problem comes from.
In my life I have noticed a phenomenon I call “recreational eating”. I have not had a weight problem since I was a young boy and went through a fairly long pudgy period. Well, maybe I also had one in midlife when I was a reporter and did not get much exercise and after dinner I continued to graze all evening. But on my own, I changed my lifestyle and it did not require dieting or costly diet programs and medical procedures. I just got more active and ate less — not necessarily better, but a little less.
I was in the first generation (born in1949) to grow up with television. Some of my first memories are lying prone on the floor watching the tube. I recall watching cartoons on television all Saturday morning, as well as watching programs each week night. Even so, I was an active child and played a lot — a lot — outside, something many children no longer do, both because they are inside playing on the computer and watching television, and texting, and because in many cases it is thought too dangerous to be out and about.
But back to this recreational eating thing: When I was a child, we did not have McDonalds or Burger King, but we did have drive-ins close by. I think their food was better than the modern ones because they still cooked it as you ordered and cooked it in a more traditional way, but it was fast food nonetheless.
For some strange reason, even though three good meals were served up by my mother each day at home, a little friend and I would go to one of the several drive-ins and eat hamburgers and fries and drink milkshakes. Those good meals were served at his home too. But we just enjoyed eating drive-in food. Maybe it’s like cigarettes. Maybe the makers of that fast food inject some type of addictive material into the stuff as the tobacco industry did (still does?) its cigarettes in order to get customers hooked on their product.
As we as a society moved toward the latter half of the 20th Century and into the 21st, life sped up and both mom and dad working outside the home became the norm. With mom at work, it became more convenient to pick up fast food (in my case, my mom did some seasonal work outside the home when I was a teenager, but she still fixed the traditional home-cooked meals).
And now I’ll wander around a bit, but it has to do with this subject — we’ve come to the point where the poorest of the poor eat and feed their kids fast food, which is more expensive and less nutritional and is fatty. Kind of reminds me of the news clip I saw years ago during another recession in which a poor woman complained: “we don’t even have pampers for our babies…” Pampers? While I realize it’s passé, there was a time when people used and reused, after washing, cloth diapers (no, I don‘t miss those days either). But we have a new kind of poor.
Also, if ever there was an example of recreational eating, it is an absurd place called Chuck E. Cheese. This is a version of what we used to call a pizza parlor. It caters to families with children. There are video games galore. Moms and dads take the little ones there, where they play the games and consume pizza.
Now enjoying good food, for more than just its nutritional content, has long been in our culture, as well as all cultures. But there’s a difference between traditional quality food and fast food. For the most part, I would think, even expensive dinners at quality restaurants are more nutritious than fast food, even if they may not be considered the best diet. For another, the tradition of going out to dinner is different than making a life out of consuming fast food which for some reason is devoid of nutrition and loaded with heart valve-clogging fat.
(I’m wandering here, I know. But if you were well off and could and did enjoy fine dining each day, you might well be no better off health wise than if you were poor and lived on fast food.)
So, I think some of the explanation, or all of the explanation, for child obesity is a change in lifestyle.
And that could lead to a whole other discussion. In the name of progress we have all but destroyed our society. Too many families no longer sit around the table and enjoy each other’s company and eat nutritional and economical home-cooked food.
(Okay not everyone enjoys each other’s company each day, but if you nit pick me on the details here I can never make a point.)
Also, too many children are left locked in their homes with mom and dad away at work.
And, maybe the idea of rewarding children by taking them out to places such as Chuck E. Cheese is not such a great idea.
It’s not all lost. In the neighborhood where I lived until recently there were children playing outside, and even in the street — a nuisance for motorists, but it did my heart good to see them — and I think I smelled home-cooked food sometimes as I walked by.
And I’ll wander again, but something occurred to me the other day when I read a story that suggested that with the dearth of jobs, many have given up looking for work. Well, if you can actually give up looking for a job then it implies that you may not really have to have one. This might be the case in a family where there are two breadwinners. I could see a strange back-to-the-future evolution of society in which there became more stay-at-home moms (or dads) and where there were more home-cooked meals and where children were safe and secure and were not afraid to play outside and were so busy playing they would not even think of going out to consume fast food.
I’m not naïve enough to think that we are going back to that mythical 1950s Leave it to Beaver life (or was it mythical? I think I lived it, but not everyone did), nor do I think that all moms should stay at home or that all women have to be the servant of a man (or all men servant of a woman?). But I do think societies naturally evolve to whatever seems practical at the time.
I should also add that just because people eat at home does not mean they are getting good food. Not everyone can cook and not everyone has a good idea of what balanced meals are. Not everyone can afford sufficient food, but fresh fruit and vegetables, and beans and potatoes are cheaper than fast food, and there is the food stamp program (which by the way I read is becoming more acceptable in this Great Recession economy).
And that leads me to say that while I think what Mrs. Obama is doing is a good thing, I don’t think it requires a lot of study, new government panels, and an outlay of educational programs requiring more tax dollars. All the info is already available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and elsewhere. It’s really up to society itself to move to the more practical or not.
The First lady’s inspiration could help, though.