How many times have we heard that childhood obesity is the greatest public health menace facing American youth, and thus America? One obvious result is the rapid rise of diseases in children like what was formerly called adult-onset diabetes and atherosclerosis – the fatty build-up in arteries that causes heart attacks.
One thing we like to do is pass laws – currently under discussion in the Senate is The Prevention of Childhood Obesity Act . While we’re at it, why don’t we pass laws that people must be polite and walk their dogs twice a day? Then we can jail fat kids and their parents, rude people, and lazy dog owners.
Will we be able to influence the sources of childhood obesity? The more important question is, “Do Americans want to change what causes obesity?” The answer to both questions is decisively “No,” as follows:
Recess. School recess has virtually disappeared around the country. My daughter, when she was 10 (she’s now 21) actually started a petition to protest the elimination of recess in her grade school. The principal listened politely, then wiped the crumbs from his beard into the list of signatures Anna presented. I don’t really know what he did with the petition, but recess was eliminated. It was eliminated for two primary reasons: fear of kids being hurt running around on school grounds, and the felt need that kids had to spend more time learning things – like computers.
Walking. We raise children like veal today – protecting and cocooning them in every phase of their existences. While it was at one time rare for children not to get themselves to school – even elementary school – around the country kids are bussed daily. If you’re going to start the day systematically avoiding the one natural opportunity for physical activity kids have, you’re doomed from the start. Kids don’t walk to school because of fear – that something untoward, unpredictable, and dangerous will occur in this time they are expected to manage themselves.
Going outside. Play used to mean running around outside playing tag and ball with other kids. Aside from brief intervals when they are bussed to baseball and soccer practice, kids no longer go outside. They prefer listening to their iPods, texting, and playing video games. And THEIR PARENTS CONCUR. Because it’s dangerous out there! Your kids will be kidnapped or seduced and raped by child predators (haven’t you seen Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator”?). Better they should stay safely ensconced in their bedrooms talking to their friends on their cell phones.
Congress isn’t going to pass a law that reinstates recess, makes kids walk to school, and requires that they play outside – because, oh, let’s count the reasons: Apple and similar companies and all their investors (including all of Congress) would be up in arms; parents fearing imminent harm for their children would be up in arms (do you know that many children who play outside fall and scrape their knees!?!); kids would be up in arms (“Play outside – you mean in the cold, heat, and dirt?”).
So we’re doomed to increasing childhood obesity – check back with me in ten years to see how that anti-obesity law is working. That is, unless we can get a good anti-obesity drug to mix with kids’ antidepressants.
P.S. I just heard a news flash – a Texas school bus driver was disciplined because, when the kids wouldn’t behave, he threatened to turn the air conditioning off – then he did for three full minutes! And it was hot! (The commentator was outraged the driver wasn’t fired. I say he should be tried in front of the World Court in The Hague for genocide.)