Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How To Prevent Childhood Obesity. Stop Reading To Your Children

My wife and I try to maintain a healthy diet for our kids. We rarely ever eat at fast food restaurants unless it is a special occasion. We don't keep bags of junk food in the pantry, tempting little hands to snack between meals. Consumption of candies and chocolates are strictly monitored. Therefore it is quite dismaying for us when we read children's books to them each night before they go to bed.

Any parent who reads to their kids knows what I'm talking about. Books for young readers are filled with depictions of children eating sweets. When kids come home from school, what do the stay at home moms do? They bring them a plate of freshly baked cookies and a glass of milk. When the children go to a friend's house, they are more likely to sit around drinking punch and eating cupcakes than they are going outside to toss a football. One version of "Wheel On The Bus" has all the bus riders ending up at a picnic, with the table loaded with cakes, cookies, punch, and ice cream.

Even Harry Potter is not immune. He and his pals are forever tempted by sweet desserts like chocolate frogs, treacles, and pumpkin juice (vomit flavored jelly beans don't count). Their favorite store to visit when they are allowed out of Hogwarts is a candy shop. I don't remember reading the Hogwarts's banquet table, with its endless supply of food, having ever served a crisp green salad or a slice of whole grain toast.

Consequently, at every activity where children are present, somebody always brings bags of empty calories for them to eat. After soccer practice, a parent may supply silver pouches of sugary fruit punch. After Sunday school, a teacher will hand out bite size candy bars or M&M's. The sweet temptations bombarding our children are ubiquitous.

Maybe the stories of the Brothers Grimm got the right idea. When Hansel and Gretel started chowing down on the witch's house made of candy, the sweets served as a bait to lure them in. The shingles made of chocolates and windows of spun sugar were not there to signal a party was awaiting them inside. The writers knew the treachery of junk food on children's health, even over two hundred years ago.

I implore modern children's books authors to do the same. Stop writing books showing how much fun it is to pig out on ice cream and cake. All these books give a false impression that unless kids are eating sugar, they are not having a good time. Cookies and cakes have a place in the diet, but not at every play date or after every meal. Nobody really needs that slice of apple pie after dinner when a fresh apple or a bowl of strawberries can be just as good. If we can alter the mindset of our youngsters, hopefully this will be a small step towards fighting the obesity epidemic in this country. I think I'll read to my kids "The Hunger Games" from now on.

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