Battle of the Bulge
While encouraging parents to focus more on portion sizes, family mealtimes and physical activity, health professionals also want help pushing for change at the national level. Until sweeping change occurs in the food industry, in schools and in the community, “it’s parents’ responsibility to play an active role in overseeing their children’s diet, exercise opportunities and in setting a good example themselves,” says David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. “While they’re at it, they can be working on the community, state and national level for legislation that would take a sensible approach to this impending public health disaster.”
Among the things parents can do:
Ask school districts to ban soft-drink and high-calorie snack vending machines from school property. Some large urban school districts have actually done this. It may not be easy if schools rely on the dollars that vending machines bring in, Ludwig acknowledges. But healthy kids are a better investment in the long run.
Campaign at the local, state and national level for an improved school lunch program – one that puts children’s health above the profits made from dispensing surplus food.
Urge your congressional representative to propose a ban on food advertisements targeted toward young children. Celebrities, action figures and cartoons are often linked with commercials promoting sugary cereals, snacks and soft drinks for kids. “It’s just like we outlawed the advertising of tobacco products to kids,” Ludwig says. “Parents need to turn off the TV but also to realize that commercial influences pervade society, on billboards and even buses. Work needs to be done both in the home and on a national level.”
Lobby the food industry to become more of a partner in children’s health. “We have to make healthy food inexpensive, convenient and good tasting. We can’t do that without the food industry,” says Gail Woodward Lopez, associate director of the research-oriented Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley. “No one is asking them not to make money, not to sell food. But I would challenge the industry to have a conscience. We need to put the same marketing expertise into healthy food alternatives, healthy portion sizes.”
Push school districts to expand physical education programs for children. Encourage daily PE classes for kindergartners through 12th-graders.
Battling the nation’s obesity problem may sound overwhelming, but all of us can make productive, attainable changes, nutrition advocates say.
“Parents have a role in this, but we can’t burden them with the whole responsibility,” says Woodward Lopez. “Every sector has to do something – schools, the food industry and parents. We should all be looking at what we can do.”