Reversing the Damage of Our Unhealthy Habits

I was so close. I thought this morning when I woke up and was staring into the writer’s abyss that we had gone a whole week with no bad news about our nutritional health or the commercial food industry’s lapses in judgment. But then I opened the Wall Street Journal and was reminded once again that we are not only losing the battle of the bulge, we are losing the war against the damage caused by our unhealthy eating habits. And as always in war, the children of the world suffer most from the collateral damage.

According to Ron Winslow’s April 29 story, children as young as 10 years old are contracting diabetes as a direct result of obesity, and recent studies have demonstrated that the drugs prescribed for the containment of the adult disease are not working in children. Early in the story, Winslow describes how this fact is “heightening worries about the fast-growing and largely preventable disease” — preventable being the key word here.

Stating the obvious, Dr. Phil Zeitler of Children’s Hospital Colorado said, “It would be much better if these kids didn’t get diabetes in the first place.” And Dr. David Allen at Wisconsin American Family Children’s Hospital also reminded us that “children 50 years ago did not avoid obesity and its complications by making healthy choices. They simply lived in a more active and less calorie-laden environment.” Surprise, surprise!

Even if you do not have children at home now, you may have grandchildren or see them on the horizon. You may know your neighbor’s children. You may at least be aware of children who are out there somewhere hopefully running around a little bit — all needing the grown-ups to change that environment for them. And we cannot blame just the parents; most of the choices out there are not good ones. It is harder and harder to find them in a grocery store crammed with prepackaged foods that are cost-attractive and nutrition-deprived.

Help is on the way, but only if we take on a little of the burden ourselves. Jamie Oliver is still going strong working to create and nurture the food revolution worldwide, and check out what the Senate did for the small farmer and farmers’ markets. But this is a project that needs a real grass-roots effort, kind of like the old No Littering campaign of the ’50s and ’60s. It needs a repetitive, persistent drumbeat, or we are going to get sicker and sicker as a nation and be paying more and more in health costs for a preventable condition.

I am beginning to think that apart from my doing more to make our markets available for education and exposure, we can all become more involved in changing the nutrition environment in our schools by advocating for school lunches that offer only good choices and only real foods, by using only healthy foods as rewards, and by teaching nutrition and its relationship to preventive health to young people in every grade. We can all do this because this is our dime — this is our money that is paying for those unhealthy choices, that unhealthy environment, and that instructional curriculum that ignores one of the biggest threats to our nation’s future health.

It’s time to get crackin’! I’m channeling my mother again, but I think it would amaze her that we have come to this. I will provide you with some local names and contacts soon for those who want to reach out and get involved.

In the meantime, continue to do the best for your own family, spend your $10 weekly on locally grown produce, and help keep our small farmers alive to sell more good choices to our school children, once we all figure out how to make that happen.