Thursday, July 05, 2007
Are boardwalk delicacies the next target?
I love going to the beach. Not only is it a time to relax and enjoy the sun and surf, but the boardwalk offers a lot of goodies that you don't find in many other places: taffy, cotton candy, greasy pizza by the slice, buckets of french fries. Ah the joy. Or is it?

As I was wandering through the crowd, munching on a funnel cake, the reasons for the obesity epidemic became pretty obvious. Look at what we are eating! And the place was loaded with skimpy suits on zaftig bodies, squeezing a lot of girth into little pieces of material. Wow. Half-naked bodies don't lie. We are a fat nation, not a fit nation. For years, we Americans have let fatty, high-calorie foods add pounds to our bodies. We've fed our children junk instead of home-cooked meals. Then we've sat around and ignored the consequences. Now, millions of Americans have type 2 diabetes and face major heart problems. We are no longer just the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are the country of the chubby. It's not a title we should be proud of. Because as the U.S. gets heavier, we are faced with serious issues that begin to affect our health-care system and our economy. Something needs to be done and soon. Many experts believe it's up to the states to begin the fight.

Every year, the University of Baltimore puts out a report card, giving grades to states, based on how well they attack the obesity issue. This year, the state of California received top honors. It's true, former Mr. Universe (and California Gov.) Arnold Schwarzenegger is no slouch when it comes to physical fitness. But it takes more then a buff state official to get an "A" from the University of Baltimore

California received the high grades in part because of programs including "First 5 California." The group's main goal is to make sure that all children in the Golden State get proper care in their first five years of life. Officials believe that a child's positive health habits are formed early and that healthy children will grow into healthy adults. But "First 5" officials don't think that their job is done after the age of 5. Childhood obesity is still a problem in tots to teens, from San Diego to San Francisco. So in an effort to get the word out to parents, "First 5" has been actively working on an awareness campaign that lets parents know it's up to them to keep their kids fit.

Today you can drive along Sunset Boulevard and see billboards reminding parents that obesity can hurt their children. Flick on the TV in Santa Monica or Fresno and a commercial appears with an adorable child asking her parent to stop and get (instead of fast food) some grease or a heart attack - stark reminders that every bite of food makes a difference in a child's health. "First 5" director Kris Perry says it's about good decision-making. "We're trying to convey to (parents) that these little choices all day long -- a cookie here, a doughnut there, a glass of juice, some chips -- by the end of the day your child has consumed far more calories then they really needed." The campaign has become so popular that comedian Adam Sandler, appearing on "Late Night with David Letterman," joked that the ads prompted him and his daughter to put down their cheeseburgers.

It's campaigns such as these that obesity experts say work. California is lucky because the state has the money to run the ads. But Ken Stanton, co-author of the University of Baltimore reports, says other governments can do their part. For example, look at New York City's ban on trans fats, or Arkansas' fight against vending machines in schools.

So are the boardwalks at places like Ocean City, Maryland, or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the next targets? Will they banish soft-serve ice cream and chicken wings forever? Probably not. But as states begin to look at how they can impact their residents and their diets, you may see fewer people standing in lines waiting for those buckets of fries and more buff bathing beauties on the beach.

Do you think states should do more? If so, what can they do to curb obesity in this country?
I've people watched at Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles and it's amazing to see the amount of morbidly obese children walking around. The same observation can be made at Disneyland. This problem isn't something the government should fix - it's the responsibility of the parents to feed their children properly. When I traveled to Switzerland earlier this year, I could not find one child that was obese much less as obese as the children here. It took some searching but I did find two slightly overweight women - not obese - just a little overweight and they were over 60. We can no longer blame our obesity problem on genetics - it's because of what and how we eat.
I live in Japan. When I visited US for the first time, I was really surprised at the size of any kind of food, such as a bucket of popcorn, French fries, ice cream, and etc. Most of them were much bigger than Japanese ones. At that time I stayed only for 8days, and I gained 4 pounds. (After that, I tried not to eat too much in America) Now Japanese people also eat many fast foods and sweets just as people in America, and lots of adults suffer metabolic syndrome even if they are not so fat. It is not easy to change an eating habit, but I think we adults should make efforts to keep children healthier.
I believe that the problem needs to be addressed at the start….. Kids! Trying to get adults to change their ways and mindset is ok, but I believe it is an uphill battle that can’t be won. Not to be pessimistic but it is the truth. The US as many other places around the world have become lazy and apathetic to the importance of physical fitness, almost to a point where it is juxtaposed to pulling teeth. Think I am making it up? Look at what sells ….fast fixes, expensive surgery to correct what should have never been, pills…fad diets..ect.. People brush their teeth (well some), take bathes…ect.. why? Because they learned early on it is what you had to do… Well why is working out not on the list? Because it was never instilled at an early age! I have worked in educational system of my state and dollars are spent on the ABC and 123, but when it come to jumping jacks and push ups??…….well lets just say ….. it’s not that important. Moreover, the same people raised on poor physical fitness values grow up to transfer these values onto their children and so on. So my point is effort should not be focused on the ones who have lost their way but rather bring focus to the little ones who are blank slates who can be molded into well rounded fit people for the future.
Val Willingham makes an excellent point. The problem is that the boardwalk has come to town--every town, every corner, every refridgerator. Once-a-year indulgences at the shore are now part of children's everyday life.

To reverse America's obesity crisis, we must focus our resources on the 0-5 year olds. Their eating habits and body composition are not yet set. We have a mandate to foster a new generation where healthful food choices and daily exercise are the norm, rather than Pop-Tarts for breakfast and Lunchables for lunch--and physical activity limited to whatever the school day may or may not afford.

Wherever a child is spending the greatest portion of her waking hours--whether that's at home or at daycare, pre-school or the YMCA--that environment must be free of the obesity- and disease-accelerating substances found in most processed, pre-packaged junk food. And a daily minimum of 1-hr of exercise is a must.

Don't wait on legislation; self-mandate today. Leave the junk food behind at the boardwalk instead of in your grocery cart. And go for a walk with your kids...
I've noticed that it seems either right inside the door, or within 20 feet of 90% of retail stores in America, you will find a soda or snack vending machine, a food display, or someone hawking drinks or food. Think: Soda machines inside Home Depot. Junk food displays within 15 feet of entering any Wal-Mart. Candy & snack food in your face before you reach the toothpaste aisle at the local pharmacy. Fast food restaurants every 2000 feet on America's secondary roads. No wonder everybody's fat. That's what we're spending our money on now that manufacturing has gone overseas, and Chinese workers are making our toothpaste.
Spending two weeks at a lake with my family, something we do each year, I realized, and regretted, how many of our traditions have to do with food. If I could do it again, I'd make sure we had many more traditions that had little to do with food and much to do with activities. Through my children are now young adults, I think I can still make this be different.
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