Monday, April 18, 2016

Children's Books And Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a huge problem in this country and increasingly around the world. The number of children who are considered obese has doubled in the last 30 years and quadrupled for adolescents. Eighteen percent of preteens in 2012 are obese. Over one fifth of adolescents in this country are obese. Globally, the number of children under 5 years old who are obese is a staggering 42 million. In a good news is bad news way, there are now more obese people in the world than people who are starving.

First Lady Michelle Obama's mission in the White House has been to educate people on the dangers of childhood obesity. She has been active in teaching children and their parents how to eat properly and exercise to maintain good health. However, even though she has been very proactive in this area, she is fighting a losing battle as the rate of obesity keeps climbing. Though the cause of childhood obesity is multifactorial, there is possibly one that has been promulgated as being healthy when in fact it may teach children the wrong lessons.

I have three children. Between them I've read hundreds of children's books. While reading to kids is good for them, the messages the books popularize is not always the healthiest. Any parent knows what I'm talking about. Kids' books almost always convey rewards with eating sweets and other unhealthy foods.

In children's stories, when the characters come back from school, what do they do? They head to the kitchen to grab some cookies and milk. When they win a baseball game? They go celebrate with pizza and ice cream. What do children do when they go visit grandma's house? They learn to bake cakes and pies. How do children interact in each other's homes? They share a milkshake and laugh over a plate of cookies. Even the kids in the Harry Potter stories get excited when they can leave Hogwarts to go on their field trips into town so they can visit the local candy shop.

You never read about children chatting while eating a bowl of grapes. They don't share each other's secrets while munching on celery sticks. Healthy eating just isn't a part of children's literature. When they are, the books are very preachy and written specifically to educate children about diet and exercise. In other words, no fun books.

Mrs. Obama and every parent and doctor have a nearly impossible task. Reading to children is important for intellectual growth. But doing so also indoctrinates them into believing that every activity should come with a sugar laden junk food treat. Sometimes I wonder if we can bend the First Amendment rights to freedom of the press so that there are fewer books about eating cookies and more books about the joys of quinoa.

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