Condemning our children in the name of politics
By Ken Root
My Pug dog died recently. He was 13 years old. Rocky was a great companion with a delightful personality. Pugs are supposed to be small but his breeding produced an animal that was quite a bit larger than the breed standard. He weighed well over 30 pounds at his peak fighting weight. Needless to say, he loved to eat. It was entertaining to watch him run to his place and bark as loudly as a stub-nosed Pug can bark, as his dinner was fixed for him. He then ate it as fast as possible, sometimes upturning the bowl and licking the floor just in case he missed some. Then he lay down and slept. He was not big on exercise and we did not do much other than let him go outside to poop and then come back in and sleep some more. He grew very fast and soon became fat. Our laughing response to those rude people who pointed this out was that he was “big boned” or he had a “gland problem” when we knew we were overfeeding him and not balancing his life with exercise. About four years ago, he began to have health problems so we took him to the veterinarian, who said he had diabetes. The vet assured us not to worry and prescribed insulin to be injected every day. “Dogs don’t have any additional health impact from diabetes so, as long as you give him a regular dose of insulin, he will live until something else overcomes him.” Rocky aged gracefully, always ready to eat and sniff and poop but not much more. He became blind but could still find the food bowl and was cared for until his last day with love and affection.
Whether we like it or not, that is exactly what we are doing to our children today. Society has changed to the point that there is plenty of high-fat food and our appetites are still strong even though the physical activity of life has declined. It is good to see kids eat well and eating what they want makes them happy. Electronic games, cell phones and television entertain them from daylight to midnight, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that we are setting kids up for major health problems in later life and far less productivity through their peak years. This should be recognized by parents and corrected by good diets and plenty of exercise. The military was the first to complain as they saw the pool of qualified candidates shrink. We don’t really want our children to be put in harm’s way, so we dismissed their claim that just 25 percent of high school graduates are fit for military service. It is not all blamed on physical size and shape but obesity is a major factor.
I attended graduation at Iowa State University a few years ago and was appalled at the number of 21-year-olds who were fat! About 10 percent of the young women and men to walk across the stage had to sweat to do so. Their lifestyle has denied them the vitality of youth and will likely decrease their quality of life, shorten their lifespan and increase the cost of health care for all of us.
So it was predictable, in a Democratic administration, that the government would step in and do what society would not. First Lady Michelle Obama has made a big deal of growing and eating fruits and vegetables. She is now promoting home cooking. Obama, a fit person herself, has encouraged physical activity among children and was in support congressional action in 2010 to change the school lunch program so that children are denied sweets and high-fat foods and offered a healthier selection of salads and low-calorie main dishes.
The result has been a political storm that started in the local schools where children refused to eat what was offered or complained about smaller portion sizes. Parents and administrators amplified the protest, and politicians caught the change in the wind direction and turned their sails to catch it. The result is a major “food fight” that is playing out from the lunch rooms to the briefing rooms.
A recent Republican-led political action to allow schools to go back to their previous food selections has polarized us even more. The change of school lunches to lower sugar and sodium, decrease fat, add more vegetables and offer lighter portions has turned into a fight that has little to do with the welfare of the children. It is about political agendas, economic gain and professional standing. The latest shot from the White House is that Republicans in Congress have replaced the judgment of doctors and nutritionists with the opinions of politicians, regarding what is healthy for our kids.
The political lines have shifted as the American Medical Association agreed that the school nutrition policy is right even though it may not fit their “anti-Obamacare” agenda. Agricultural commodity groups, including dairy and potatoes, argue that their products are healthy and nutritious and children will drink chocolate milk and eat mashed potatoes as opposed to the current situation where much of the healthy food is thrown away after the child refuses to eat it.
We have to ask ourselves whether individual responsibility is still a viable means to maintain the lunch program as it was in generations past. If not, then how strongly should the government step in to modify eating behavior in the schools? Pending legislation directs the USDA to allow schools to opt out of the program if they can show they have lost money on their lunch program for six months. We have come down to a short-term economic decision regarding food versus a long-term economic decision that involves the cost of healthcare in later life.
Society has changed. We are not going back to home cooking with the family involved in year-round manual labor. In fact, that era ended in the 1970s. Now we have a majority of households with a single parent and children who have no required physical activity at home or at school. Fat people are everywhere. We have more than enough food to eat and no requirement to work it off.
I should have fed Rocky a low-calorie dog food and given him more exercise. It would have helped both of us. But I didn’t do that and just lived in the moment. When I stand back and observe the lifetime of my pet, I see it as a compressed example of the lifetime of the next generation of American children. Call it: “An ounce of prevention or a pound of cure.” The choice is ours to make.
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 39 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, or send mail for him to High Plains Journal.