Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Kid's Food Pyramid Was A Big Waste Of Time

Kid-friendly Food Pyramid uses computer games to confront obesity

In a blog post earlier today, I told you that the government was going to release a new plan to deal with the growing childhood obesity crisis in the United States. Now we know exactly what that plan is: a new Food Pyramid for kids!

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this new kid version of the government-endorsed Food Pyramid is aimed at reaching children between the ages of 6-11 by enticing them with a rocket ship-based computer game and cartoon graphics. They're trying to make it cool for the kids so they'll get excited about health, nutrition and fitness.

Our friend Sally Squires from The Washington Post chimed in on this new development in the government's war against childhood obesity with a column of her own.

Squires writes in her story that this new kid's Food Pyramid has some familiar themes regarding nutrition and fitness.

"It urges kids to fill up on fruit and vegetables, grab whole grains instead of more processed cereals, bread and pasta and to 'get your calcium-rich foods,' such as milk," she wrote in her Washington Post column. "Youngsters are advised to pick up protein -- not the greasy fast food burgers, fatty hot dogs and deep-fried chicken nuggets that are often a staple of children's diets -- but rather beans, nuts and sunflower seeds as well as lean meat, poultry without the skin and seafood."

That's not bad advice, especially regarding eating more of certain fruits and vegetables, staying away from processed and junk foods, consuming more protein that comes from all kinds of meats, and snacking on nuts and seeds. But I still think children could stand to stay away from high-carb foods such as bread, pasta, and milk. There are plenty of low-carb versions of these that would satisfy the nutritional needs kids have. The younger we can start kids on a healthy low-carb lifestyle, the greater chance obesity can be nipped early to prevent the onset of weight-related health problems.

In regards to fat, Squires said the kids Food Pyramid promotes the good fats found in fish, nuts and olive oil which can help boost the physical and mental capacities of a growing child. And when it comes to exercise, the recommendation is to have an hour a day minimum, something Squires states "few children now meet."

Part of the problem is that physical education and recess are all but obselete in grade school now and nonexistent in middle and high school. A couple of years ago, I was a substitute teacher in my local school district and worked with a variety of students ranging from 4-year-old kindergarten all the way up to seniors in high school. Whenever I filled in on the elementary level, I was amazed the kids only got about 20 minutes maximum for recess just 2-3 days per week. That's it!

I remember when I was growing up in the 1980's that we stayed out on the playground for about an hour playing all sorts of games like kickball, dodgeball, and more. The ran us ragged and I'm sure our moms and dads were grateful for it when we slept like babies at night. But those days are gone. Is it any wonder why obesity rates in children has jumped so dramatically?

Complaints about this new Food Pyramid for kids being on the computer are centered around the fact that parents and children will have to seek out the information on the Internet to learn more about it. Although there is a lot of publicity about it at the moment with news stories popping up all across the media in the next few days, what's going to happen in the weeks, months and years ahead? Will the interest in a web-based kid's Food Pyramid going to continue to pique the interest of the people who need to learn more about it? Not likely.

The adult version of the new Food Pyramid that released earlier this year has seen its numbers fall off considerably with a large number of people viewing it as something negative (42 percent) compared with the people who saw it as a positive thing (37 percent) according to a BuzzMetrics survey of consumers who surf health web sites. The other 21 percent were unsure what they thought of it. An analyst for Buzzmetrics said the Food Pyramid "is barely a blip on the public conscience."

So why do a kid's version of it if the adult one has fallen flat on its face? Do you expect to breed success out of such dismal failure? Oh, I forgot, we are talking about the United States government here. All sense of rational thought and common sense are thrown out the window. They're the same ones who have been telling us for three decades that a low-fat/low-calorie/portion-controlled diet is the only way to lose and maintain your weight. As Dr. Phil would say, "how's that working for you?"

As for the interactive computer game that involves a rocket ship, Squires writes it "serves as a visual reminder of how well kids are doing for the day. "

"When healthy food and more activity are recorded the rocket ship gets fueled. Put in enough of the right kind of fuel and it can take off. But put in food and drinks high in fat or added sugar such as sodas and the rocket ship could sputter on the launch pad, spewing black smoke."

That's cute and all, but does anybody else see the irony in this? Here is a new health program designed to get kids to become more active and eat right and what is it encouraging them to do? Sit in front of a computer screen and play this silly little game all day! "But mommy, I don't want to go outside and play, I want to sit here and stay fat while I play this computer game!" Was anybody thinking when they came up with THIS idea? Oh yeah, we are still talking about the government. Enough said.

Efforts are underway to help market this new kid's Food Pyramid in public schools, but to what end? What difference ultimately will this campaign and emphasis on a child version of the Food Pyramid make on the childhood obesity epidemic? If you ask me, it's a big waste of time, energy, and tax dollars. It's back to the drawing board because there's got to be a better way.

But we're missing the bigger question that needs to be asked. Until parents take a more pro-active role in getting their own weight problem under control, how can we expect their children to do any differently? Mothers and fathers who are the examples for their children to follow need to show their kids what good nutrition and fitness is all about by doing it themselves. We cannot and should not expect the government to play this role for us.

Whatever it takes to make it happen for you, then you need to do it. I've been in a situation where I allowed myself to become morbidly obese. I know the pain and the agony of trying and failing on diet after diet. But there is something out there that will work for you. For me it was livin' la vida low-carb and it has helped me lose weight and keep it off now for almost two years after I was on my way to an early grave. Do it for you kids and they'll thank you for it when they become adults.


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