I just finished watching “Killer At Large,” a documentary on obesity and its significant impact on Americans.
This documentary covers a lot of different ideas behind what is causing and perpetuating the obesity epidemic in the United States. The movie opens with the story of a 12 year-old girl who is morbidly obese and decides to get liposuction. Her parents are behind her on this decision and feel that there is nothing else they can do, and that liposuction seems to be the logical solution. As the movie continues, we are shown the ways in which the U.S. Government has completely ignored the significance of obesity, its effect on people, and how much it is costing the country, both financially and emotionally. Additionally, we see the ways in which some towns have chosen to approach this problem, including Somerville, MA, where the entire town has worked together to promote healthier citizens. Restaurants have been given guidelines, bike paths have been put in place, and some of the schools even grow their own produce and serve only organic food. While I don’t think such a dramatic change is feasible for most of the country (it obviously costs a significant amount of money and requires significant planning around an infrastructure that is already in place), it got me thinking about my own experiences in my town, growing up, and how things have changed. It also made me think about what solutions and changes are feasible across the country.
Yes, part of the problem is the food being offered and marketed to children, but I honestly think it goes beyond that. My mom bought a lot of unhealthy snacks. Not gonna lie, these were my favorite:
We only ate white bread. Breakfast consisted of Lucky Charms, Cookie Crisp, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch (which I still love, by the way). I ate the pizza/nachos/cheeseburgers/chips/cookies in school. But my mom also cooked dinner most of the time, and we didn’t go out to eat often. I might have wanted McDonalds sometimes (not because Ronald McDonald was a successful marketing tool…he actually creeped me out and still does) but we didn’t go there every night; it was a treat to go out to eat or get fast food. Additionally, while I don’t think I was as active as my mom when she was growing up, I still spent time playing with my neighbors, whether that involved street hockey or hide and seek. I also played soccer and danced. I was active. I haven’t babysat in years, but when I did, the kids sat in front of their computers playing games for literally the entire 6-8 hours I was at their house. They didn’t go outside, and they certainly didn’t move around very much.
This ties into a conversation I had with a friend of mine last night about the shift in technology. Although I was a child and adolescent not too long ago (read: 10-15 years), so much has changed. Video games, television shows, computers, and even tablets are more available to children. As he put it: “I think what’s happening is technology, for better or for worse, serves as a crutch for parenting…almost a part-time babysitter. Parents love the screens in the back seats of the minivans because their kid will sit there and be quiet, and video games keep them occupied rather than them tearing around the house.” It’s a perspective I never really took but it absolutely makes sense. One of the interviewees in the documentary was a physical education teacher who noted the differences in children and their motor skills from the time he began teaching twenty years ago to today. He noted that when most of his students run around today, their form indicates that it isn’t a natural motion for them and it is something they never learned. That’s pretty scary to think about, especially when you think about little kids and how perfectly they run without any assistance or training; the human body is designed to move and it’s something that we are supposed to be able to do naturally.
So while I think that part of the problem is absolutely nutrition in schools and restaurants and at home, a lot of it is also the responsibility of parents to educate their children and take on an active role in their health. We’ve always had fried food, food with a lot of fat and sugar and calories. But have we always eaten incredibly large portions? Have we always sat our children in front of the television or game console for hours and hours?
I certainly think that there are changes that need to be made to food and exercise guidelines put in place in our schools, restaurants, and homes. But I also think that the fact that only 15% of people use posted calories in NYC restaurants to make healthier decisions when ordering shows that there is a level of personal responsibility that is significantly lacking. Until everyone (you, me, the government, restaurants) acknowledge that, I don’t think the obesity problem will go away or even diminish. I do think that with proper education starting at a young age, the availability of healthy options, and the understanding that we need to be more responsible and make better choices will help make changes. But I also wonder if, as a society, we are too comfortable with pointing fingers and not accepting responsibility that we will never be able to turn things around completely.
If anyone else has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. I should also note that if anyone is interested, “Killer at Large” is available to watch instantly on Netflix.