Nutritional peer pressure
I recently took my son to an event at the city library celebrating Read Across America and the birthday of Dr. Seuss. It was an outstanding event and well attended by the children of Porterville. The famous Cat In The Hat was present. Among others, City Manager John Lollis read to the kids. Just as we were leaving, Mayor Virginia Gurrola was coming in to take her turn.
My only complaint: The Cat In The Hat passed out cotton candy to the kids.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just this event. It seems that in modern America, we have all come to the conclusion that childhood us incomplete without huge doses of sugar.
We experienced it a few months ago when our son participated in youth soccer. Parents were to take turns bringing snacks for the kids to share after each game. The faces of the other parents — otherwise very good parents from all we could tell — turned ashen when we suggested that we might bring apples and bananas. One even brought extra snacks when our turn came around to avoid any chance the kids would be deprived of sugar and salt.
Eventually, the compromise was reached to bring things like granola bars and fruit roll-ups. Parents often brought two or three snacks along with a sugar-filled juice boxes. Many parents seem to have fallen for the idea that anything with juice is healthy, despite the fact that even the healthiest versions of them are loaded with sugar. Pediatricians recommend that if you give your child juice, you water it down. The vitamin C may be great, but these shouldn’t be confused with health food.
The same thing happens now that our son is in school. His teacher encourages parents to bring healthy snacks for the children to share. In Porterville, many parents simply cannot afford it, which we understand. But, of those who bring snacks, the most common items are cookies and snack cakes.
At lunch, it’s tough because we have no control. We pack a reasonably healthy lunch for him — sandwich, and maybe some carrots or an apple — but then the sharing begins. His friends bring Lunchables — the processed and expensive prepackaged meals that are designed for parents who are too busy to take five minutes to make their kids a sandwich. These may be convenient, but they’re also like a heart attack in plastic.
The funny thing is, I don’t think of us as nutritional purists. Our son gets his share of unhealthy food. But, it’s easy to forget that he weighs about a quarter of what I do. A small amount of sugary treats go a long way. A 12-ounce, sugary, caffeinated soda has a huge effect on a small child. Frankly, between Easter and Halloween, he gets enough candy to last most of the year.
We are a bit sensitive to it because both my wife and I have obesity in our family histories. As we struggle with the issue, we know he may not have genetics on his side. It would be more damaging to add bad habits to it especially since ours are far from perfect.
Somewhere along the line, many in this country have come to the idea that indulgence is the key to a fun childhood. As we’ve put our own childhoods on distorted memory pedestals, we’ve forgotten that positive discipline and good habits are critical to our children’s future. As we focus children on unhealthy food, we lead them to look to short-term gratification with dangerous long-term consequences.
But, the interesting thing about peer pressure, whether from children or other parents, is that it goes both ways. I have no great desire to “pressure” other parents, but we can at least set a good example. The great thing is when we bring celery, carrots and snap peas to school, many of the kids love them. It’s not universal; some have been so conditioned to expect sugar, it’s an uphill battle. But, at least they’ll see another example of how to eat.
None of you need me to tell you that obesity is an epidemic. All you have to do is look out the window. But, we can support one another in positive ways just as easily as negative. As parents, let’s help out kids eat better.
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On a related subject, many parents are surprised when they hear that our son’s bedtime is 7:30, sometimes earlier. A 5-year-old needs 10 to 12 hours of sleep per day. With most kindergartens being longer than they used to, making naps difficult, nighttime sleep is doubly important. If all kids got the sleep they needed, behavior problems in school would drop dramatically.
Michael Carley is a resident of Porterville. He can be reached at email@example.com.