In April of 2014, a study revealed a continued rise in childhood obesity for children ages two to 19. The study was based on over 14 years of data taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and stressed that not only were these children diagnosed with obesity at a young age, but the risk of remaining obese throughout their lifetime increased as well.
How Can We Fix the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?
Clearly, our nation has a flawed nutrition education. Fast food has become the quick fix for family dinners, while soda, candy, and highly processed foods are the go-to snacks throughout the school day.
In the Home
One of the main changes you can make is placing importance on home-cooked meals. In 1900, two percent of meals were eaten outside the home. In 2010, 50 percent of meals were eaten outside the home, and one in five breakfasts came from McDonald’s. Our society’s dependence on fast food, restaurant dining, and pre-cooked meals has taken its toll on the health of the entire family. As reported by Huffington Post, “Kids as young as four have a lower risk of obesity if they eat regular family dinners.” The statistics prove that in today’s American household, speed and convenience trump nutrition. Over time, however, we can fix these new traditions step by step. A few ways to do this are by formally scheduling weekly family dinner nights, cutting out processed foods from your grocery list, and cooking meals with low sugar, less fat and salt.
In the Schools
The Let’s Move! campaign, begun by First Lady Michelle Obama, is one of several initiatives aimed at improving the health of our children, with a specific focus on our schools. New emphasis on physical education and changes to the cafeteria menu are top priorities of the campaign. For example, the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” of 2010 has increased the amount of whole-grain-rich foods, reduced trans fat and sugars, and ensured that every student is offered fruits and vegetables.
Cutting sodas and high fat foods from schools are great steps, but we also need to improve nutrition education in the classroom. In 2011, the USDA adopted a “food plate” (to replace the outdated “food pyramid”) that showcases a larger portion dedicated to fruits and vegetables. This plate does still designate a portion for protein and dairy. The problem with this kind of diagram is that emphasis should be placed on vitamins and nutrients, rather than the food group. The type of protein makes a huge difference in your nutrition. Plant-based protein and calcium are ultimately much better for your health than the protein and calcium that you find in animal meat and dairy.
In the Media
It’s no news that the media and the entertainment industry affect the ways we think about food. Just about every season, a new fad diet, weight-loss trick or food-based disease hits the stands and spreads like wildfire across social media. Trending topics such as coconut oil, juice cleansing, gluten-free, paleo and raw dieting have been talked about so often by dozens of different sources that it is hard to keep the facts straight.
Elle Magazine recently covered the connection between social media and fitness/nutrition businesses. It’s becoming easier for like-minded individuals to engage in conversations about dieting, food trends and exercise. On the other side of the coin, food companies are also using social media to their advantage. Instagram and Twitter campaigns use hashtags and photos to gain followers and, more importantly, consumers. This practice creates momentum behind products and ideas that can be beneficial or detrimental to your health, depending on the validity of their claims.
In order to reduce our nation’s obesity, among both children and adults, we need to have more educated conversations about food at home, at school and online. A plant-based, whole foods-centered diet is the surest way of improving our health and the health of future generations.