Something even more troubling
is that a South
Beach experiment is occurring in some elementary schools. The
creator of South Beach says, "Left to our own devices, we go
for sweet stuff and fats. In early societies, these basic, primitive
tastes helped us survive by leading us to nutritionally dense food
like fruit and meat."
Imagine the horror of
growing children eating nutrient dense foods like fruit and meat.
Does a kid really get obese from eating too many steaks
and apples? And why, does he suppose, weren't all of the
Chinese people obese from eating mostly white rice (a "baaaaaad
carb")? And to speak the unspeakable, this guy doesn't have
enough money already from selling his snake oil to adults? Now he
has to target our kids too?
Maybe a little less "South
Beach" and a little more common sense is in order here. One
of the problems is that French fries have become a God-given right
in our schools. And it's not so much that, as it is the choice to
eat nothing but a huge container of French fries. Are kids really
going to get obese from eating a 350 calorie lunch every day because
it has ketchup and French fries included? When kids are served a
lunch with reasonable portions and milk to drink, the fat, carbohydrate
and sugar content doesn't matter all that much (so long as all essential
nutrients are represented). But one would practically be a fascist
to suggest that we simply do away with the "food court"
mentality at middle and high schools.
Interestingly, the children
of the much demonized "clean-your-plate" generation didn't
have a very high incidence of obesity. The reason why? They didn't
have very big plates. In the following
table the government gives a guideline that represents a time
of scarcity and bare bones nutrition. Even using the fattiest three-ounce
serving of meat I can think of, this whole list only comes to about
1,160 calories for adults and 1,450 for kids (kids had to combine
growing with working back then). If the government went back to
this bare-minimum-to-get-adequate-nutrition approach, adults could
add in a candy bar, a soda and even a bag of chips every day and
still not eat enough to become obese. Get the kids off the couch
once in a while and they could do the same.
Price Foundation has been lobbying the government to change
its recommendations back to pretty much exactly this for a while
now. On a scale of one to ten, one being the most sane and ten being
the most nutty, these people are about a fifteen, but they make
several excellent points about what should be common sense in the
world of nutrition. Most notably, they point out that foods that
exist in nature and have been recognized as good for human consumption
the world over for thousands of years did not suddenly turn "bad"
in the 1980‘s, political agendas notwithstanding.
There's a lot of money
spent every year trying to figure out why American kids are so much
fatter than other kids. It would be amusing if it wasn't so…
dumb. How many studies should we need to figure out that sitting
at a desk listening to a teacher followed by sitting around watching
TV during most of one's waking hours just doesn't require very many
calories? PT Barnum's famous quote, "Nobody ever went broke
underestimating the intelligence of the American public," is
particularly apt in light of how much we need to be told how to not feed our kids so much.
At the same time, as
a mother I understand what a horrible dilemma this might put parents
in. For example, I'm not too bothered by hearing my kids complain
if I say they can't have another candy bar (annoyed probably, but
not really "bothered"), but I can't really imagine telling
a kid who says he's still hungry that he can't have another piece
of chicken or another bowl of spaghetti. It's not hard to figure
out why parents in this situation are looking for a better answer
and fall prey to so much "magic answer" advice.
Genetics is rarely given
much of a mention in all this advice, yet it plays a really important
role. It may not really be a genetic predisposition to obesity as
much as the result of certain populations evolving in an area of
scarcity and therefore having adapted to living on few calories. According
to Dr. Paul Saltman of the University of California, San Diego,
The Pima Indians evolved
to meet the needs of living in the desert. In their case genetic
selection was for those with the most effective metabolism and
ability to conserve scarce resources. Make available a 7-11 and
a six pack of beer to people with this genetic background and
you've got people who are very obese and very sick from heart
disease and diabetes.
But it's not very romantic
to say that most of us (including many of our children) just eat
too much. And it certainly doesn't sell any books or inspiring audio
tapes. What we need to learn as a nation is how to help our children
stay healthy and survive in a time of abundance when evolution has
programmed their bodies to withstand scarcity. The answer is not
to over burden them with obsessing over every food ingredient, and
I'm not going to volunteer to hold my breath until there's less
junk food available to American kids. So I think the best we can
do at this point is to support programs that increase the availability
of good quality food (especially that which is quick and easy to
prepare) to low-income families, and to incorporate more natural
activity into kids' school days. Oh, and perhaps most importantly,
we need to teach all of our kids to, at least, put the Cheetos back
in the cupboard when their bellies are full.
: october 2005
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