Monday, November 11, 2013

Teach Your Children Well

We almost never watch TV at our house. We just have too much living to do, and, really, most of what's on TV isn't worth watching, anyway. But, every once in a while, I do turn on certain shows that I find interesting. One of these shows is The Biggest Loser. I love seeing the contestants confront their demons, push through their perceived limits and transform their lives.

This season, there's a woman on the show named Tanya who really got my attention. Her lifestyle had deteriorated so much that she gained over a hundred pounds with her last pregnancy, and her baby was born grossly overweight at 11 pounds 6 ounces. Now 2 years old, Tanya's daughter is at risk for many diseases and will be climbing an uphill battle all her life. I cried right along with Tanya when she broke down and said, "I did this to her."

And it made me think of the millions of American children who are eating fake, processed foods, and leading unhealthy, sedentary lives. When I was a child, I played outside with my friends, walked or rode my bike around town and rarely sat around the house. Contrast that with today's electronic culture of video games, TV, computers, smart phones, streets empty like ghost towns. These days, when I see kids playing outside, I'm actually surprised by it. I can't tell you how sad this makes me.

Add to this the explosion of "convenience foods", and we've got the perfect mix for a whole generation of people at risk for all kinds of diseases, from diabetes to heart disease to stroke to cancer.  It is estimated that one third of all American children and adolescents are overweight or obese. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around this number. These children will, in all likelihood, grow up to be overweight adults, and I think of all the missed opportunities, the heartbreak, the economic toll on society that will follow.

And, when I think of these children, Tanya's words echo in my mind. Children do not get fat in a vacuum. There is a whole society that sets up the conditions for this to happen. But, the situation is not hopeless. To paraphrase Gandhi, we must all strive to make the changes in ourselves that we wish to see in the world.

Do we model appropriate behavior to our children? Do we make time to teach them how to make healthful meals from real, fresh ingredients or do we microwave frankenfoods to give to them during the car ride to the shopping center, where we will circle the parking lot to find the spot nearest to the entrance of the store? Do we collapse in front of the TV after dinner or do we take a walk around the neighborhood and take the time to talk to one another about the events of the day? When our children have something to say, do we give them our undivided attention, or are we staring at our smartphones?

Small changes add up to big consequences. Be mindful. Make good choices. And, remember, children are always watching and learning. What are we teaching them?

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