The obesity epidemic in America is starting to reach epic proportions. Only now have Americans finally realised that fast food probably isn't the best thing for you.
We have a generation of children that could potentially have a lower life expectancy than their parents. In 10 years, one in four children will have early onset diabetes. The medical costs for obesity related illnesses and death are literally shaking the foundation of the American economy, even as healthcare reform looms.
How did we get here? We didn't reach the current state of 'fat' overnight. It was a slow and steady process, where large commercial food manufacturers slowly 'educated' the public on what was healthy and what wasn't. We were told that 'diet' soda was a better choice without even questioning the long-term effects of sugar substitutes. We were told pasta was a 'healthy' choice for a meal, and decades later we were told to eliminate carbohydrates to lose weight. We were told that high-fructose corn syrup was a wonder sweetener that came from that cash cow crop, corn. Now, we're being told it's a 'leader' in childhood obesity.
One of my favourites these days are the little green identifiers you can find on almost anything (potato chips, macaroni and cheese, soda bottles etc), that's supposed to signify it's a healthy option. Right. Healthy. And now we live in a world of catchphrases such as 'heart healthy', 'all natural', 'better for you choice', yet again leaving it up marketing executives to determine the most important thing we as humans need for survival – food.
Our food is injected, treated with chemicals, genetically modified and altered, and branded as such that it's appealing to children. The analogy can be made that the marketing is similar to that of Big Tobacco unfairly targeting children – the unhealthy food (sweet, salty, fatty) has neat little cartoon characters attached to it that are on commercials during Saturday mornings, and in comic books and on billboards, clearly targeting our youth: 'Eat these Sugar Balls – they're high in fibre!'.
With all of the attention being given to obesity, why are we not 'bettering the breed' and tackling the problem at its roots: with our children. Why isn't this being handled at the elementary level?
We have no problems trying to teach our children multiple languages, or putting them in advanced classes to be more competitive, but we don't spend any time in the schools teaching them about food, nutrition or health. Our school system is supposed to be a two-way street: teachers assign tasks and homework that parents must oversee at home as part of the learning process. Why shouldn't the schools be tasked with the same responsibilities we as parents are? After all, its our taxes that ultimately pay their salaries.
In order to impact a culture change, you must start at the roots, and nurture that culture until it comes to fruition. In other words, our children don't have to die an early death – if we just stop for a moment and teach them about food. They need to learn that if it comes from a box, can or bag, it's probably not the most natural or healthiest choice.
Manny Manno is food service director at Aramark Business Services.
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