How parents can help break the cycle of childhood obesity: raise a cook and dance!

I spent a thoughtful few days after first reading Chop, Fry, Boil: Eating for One, or 6 Billion from the 12/31/10 New York Times followed by seeing a blog post from KevinMD.com entitled Childhood obesity and chronic illnesses that result from being overweight. Of course, I read much about childhood obesity and have a seemingly endless stream of conversations in the office about this topic. With parents and kids I try to navigate this delicate but medically urgent issue. With fellow pediatricians we express frustration over the mounting problem and despair of being efficacious in our attempts to help parents and children carve a healthier path through the mess that it seems our society has created.

Results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese.

The blog post outlines the problem of childhood obesity and examines some suggested remedies: limits on the sales of sodas and educational initiatives for parents and doctors alike. These add to what is necessarily a multi-pronged approach. Physicians need to educate and discuss, schools need to examine what is in their vending machines and in their lunches, food manufacturers, store and restaurant chains need to have a conscience that examines their role in this nation-wide crisis.

What can we as parents add to the mix? Among many small steps we can take (pack lunches, serve water, model exercise), falls the idea so well outlined in Chop, Fry and Boil. We can and should, raise a nation of cooks. No, not chefs – no perfection or creativity required. We can raise our kids ready to go forth able to provide for themselves simple, tasty, home-cooked meals. Giving the next generation of Americans basic cooking skills gives them the ability to avoid the cycle of fast food consumption and its inherent physical and economic costs. The author provides us three basic recipes to learn. I am an avid cook but, somehow have never learned how to make an edible stir fry. I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Bittman’s Broccoli Stir-Fry with Chicken and Mushrooms; enjoyed the learning, the cooking and the eating. Better yet – I invited my 11 y/o daughter to learn with me and she joined in; the recipe was indeed that approachable.

We teach our children so much. We feed them well. Many of us let our kids play in the kitchen…here we call this baking “experiments”. Let’s also arm them with some basic dinner-making skills;

By becoming a cook, (they) can leave processed foods behind, creating more healthful, less expensive and better-tasting food that requires less energy, water and land per calorie and reduces our carbon footprint. Not a bad result for us — or the planet.

Then we can start on the next step suggested in a recent interview with our Surgeon General Regina Benjamin: that we as a nation maybe need to dance more.

That exercise is medicine. It’s better than most pills.


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