In case I am preaching to the choir here, please take a step back and consider the children of your neighbors or your co-workers or children you don’t even know as I rant about where we are headed in this country while paying little or no attention to the issue of childhood obesity. We are heading nowhere. As individuals and as a country, we are doing nothing about it.
I have spent time over the last two weeks culling and organizing newspaper clippings from three newspapers that go back ten years. I have saved these because I have been interested in this health issue for that long. There have been a flood of studies; we are even spending tax money to investigate the problem. And there have been numerous stories that examine the implications of our overeating on our long-term personal health. There have also been business-news items about the impact of childhood obesity on our economy, which will pay in many ways to accommodate a generation of young adults with old-age health problems.
When was the last time a politician talked about this issue, except of course to stand up in Congress and charge that removing excess and empty calories from school lunches is encroaching on freedom of choice by telling people what to eat? As if serving unhealthy food is not also “telling them what to eat.” And where is the member of Congress or reporter — or anyone — who stands up and points out that whatever we feed our children in their school lunches imposes limits on their options? Improving the options does not change the school lunch system. It just changes the options. Choosing not to improve the options demonstrates a blatant disregard for all of those studies, a dismissal of the facts and a blind eye to the future cost to our economy.
In the same week that our nation’s pediatricians were advocating testing the cholesterol of young children and a new study emerged that linked early-childhood obesity with long-term heart issues, our Congress decided to cave into the pizza, salt and potato lobbies and refused to improve the nutrient value and reduce the calories in school lunches.
It galls me to watch countries around the world moving so earnestly toward democracy while we can’t use the power of the people we already have to get our democratic representatives to do the right thing — or at least to discuss it on its merits and treat it as an issue that we, the people, can influence.
But I am happy to be the one to remind you that you can do something. If you want to venture out and take this on as a project for the next year, let me know. There are simple things that we can do at the local and state levels. We may not be able to change what Congress decrees is a healthy lunch, but we can change what our schools offer to those children who are not learning at home what to eat at school. There are levels of participation and activism. You can be part of the educational or motivational program. You can work through an existing forum or help to bring the advocacy groups together around a specific goal. You can help develop a database to support our arguments, or you can help manage a petition drive.
I will continue to report on the status of the project — we do need to give it a name — and you are welcome to send us links or referrals to pass along even if you cannot spare the time to participate.
For updates on what is happening around the country, visit Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution website and sign up for the newsletter. If you really want to be motivated or want to motivate a group, watch Jamie Oliver’s speech at a TED conference last year.