(Childhood) Obesity = Problem with Education. Period.
Watching people say and do things that are bad for them throughout a 1.5-hour video is really, really tough. That’s the experience of watching the 2014 documentary, ‘Fed Up’ about childhood obesity.
The movie sets about to defend the victims of (childhood) obesity by saying it isn’t their fault, that they’re making the choices that the government tells them to make. However, throughout the video, you see nothing but people making terrible food and lifestyle choices.
Example 1: Obese boy goes for walks to burn off fat, but smothers his salad with salad dressing. Salad dressing = High sugars and/or high fat. Walking = Low intensity / low calorie burning. Result = Child is not going to lose weight!
Example 2: Mother chooses the ‘healthy’ option for food, but is making her purchasing choices not based on understanding ingredients, but simply by trusting packaging marketing. ‘Low fat’ does not really mean low fat. Ironic as it may seem to this parent, ‘low fat’ simply means that the product does not contain much fat. Nevertheless, in order to make food tasty (which is what fat does), the manufacturers (who are normally pharmaceutical companies if you’re buying highly processed foods) substitute fat for lots of sugar, cheap sugar. Sugars are converted to fat if they aren’t used. Furthermore, excessive sugar intake can lead to diabetes. ‘Fed Up’ only mentions this 30 minutes into the documentary, which makes the initial presentation of the child’s lifestyle misleading.
Example 3: Boy is eating ‘Special K’ cereal presumably because he and his family think Special K is healthy. The ingredients and nutrition content of Special K varies from country to country, but contains between 12-17% sugar. It is also fairly high in salt. And, of course, the boy eats hamburgers for lunch.
People make these choices because education has let them down.
Food nutrition and cooking should play a great role in education. However, even in private schools, cooking is treated as a supplementary subject – something you can choose (or not choose) to study after school. So, your parents can’t cook, and you can’t cook, so you have this cycle of families eating pre-prepared foods with no understanding of why these foods are bad for them.
I see parents constantly making poor food choices, regardless of social class or wealth. What child needs McDonalds? Seriously? What child can survive on pizza for lunch? What child needs sugary drinks like Coca Cola or Pepsi? What child can survive eating only carbs? What about proteins? What about vegetables?
Fast foods and processed foods are not cheaper or healthier. It is cheaper and healthier to cook food using fresh and raw ingredients. What is more, you know (more or less) what is in your food.
But what about parents that give their kids healthy food?
Firstly, I often see families that think they’re making healthy choices, but are simply giving their kids fruit to supplement the otherwise plain carb-filled diet. Fruits contain tremendous amounts of sugar. Vegetables are a much better choice than fruit. What is more, kids need healthy sources of protein. They can’t just live on carbohydrates, and they can’t live on hot dog sausages!
Parents may say that their kids don’t like vegetables. Why is this, however? What you like eating is partly based on your age (i.e. immature taste sensors) and partly based on what you’ve been conditioned (i.e. raised) to like. If you give your child sugary foods, they’ll develop a taste for that. Once you stop taking sugar in your coffee and tea, can you go back to that? No. Your taste changes and excessively sweet drinks are undrinkable. If you give your child vegetables – ideally cooked correctly – then they’ll become accustomed to eating them. They won’t know any different. If you don’t, they’ll become accustomed to not eating them.
The next problem is quantity. Healthy food, vitamins and minerals are only good for you in the right quantities. If you eat anything excessively, it will cause harm. Even water is harmful in excess! So, if you child eats four platefuls of pasta, wholegrain or not, they’re likely to get fat from overeating.
Another problem is with drinking calories. Too many of us think that food is the only problem with obesity. However, liquids are a far greater risk. You can only eat so much. However, you can drink and drink and drink and drink. Fluids fly through your body, so you can go to the bathroom and feel hungry again. Yet, if these liquids you’re drinking are fruit juices, soda, smoothies, or liquified foods, you’re consuming far more calories than you’d be able to if it were actual food. Try eating the same amount of oranges as it would take to make a glass of orange juice. That’s a lot of oranges!!
Yet another problem is with our metabolism. Genetics plays a big role in this, but so does our physical condition. Men that exercise vigorously are able to increase their testosterone levels (artificially achieved through the use of steroids), which increases their metabolism. Cut the exercise and they lower their metabolism. Likewise, if we abuse our bodies, our organs will be less efficient at dealing with sugars and fats.
The final problem is that eating healthy food isn’t enough. We all need regular and varied exercise. Regardless of how active we may feel our life is, human beings have never been more sedentary than now. People drive everywhere. Kids rarely move in class, and physical fitness in school isn’t sufficient. It isn’t easy to find families that both eat healthily and exercise; it’s normally one or the other. It’s incredible to see people that do sports that rush to a fast food restaurant afterwards. What’s the point in exercising if you fill your face with garbage? Do this with a child and you’re causing so much damage. When you exercise, it causes necessary damage to the body. Rest and proper nutrition are essential to repairing the body and physical improvement.
While some of the science behind how much each of us really needs to eat may not be 100% accurate (i.e. it’s not an exact science), it is indisputable that losing weight requires controlling the quantity/quality of food/drink AND intensive, regular exercise.
We can’t blame manufacturers for obesity, and we put far too much faith in companies/restaurants to have our best interests at heart. That’s just irresponsible.
If I gain weight, I know why. I know that’s it’s because I stopped (or cut back on) exercising, and possibly because I started eating less healthy food/drinks. When I reverse this, I lose weight and get fit. If I eat out, I know that regardless of how healthy the food seems to be, it is likely to contain unhealthy ingredients – not least excessive salt. Why is excessive salt bad? Because it can cause strokes.
Watching a documentary like ‘Fed Up’ is tough, because it defends people’s poor choices by saying it’s not their fault, that it’s all about misinformation by the government. Yet, it is our fault – all of us. It’s our fault that our education doesn’t provide us with the skills we need to make good choices. We have become culturally conditioned to think that it’s okay not to know how to cook, and to blame the government and manufacturers for our own ignorance and poor choices. While there are endless self-help books that capitalize on the failures of education, this knowledge should be put into practice in schools. We shouldn’t rely on people having the commonsense to educate themselves. Clearly this isn’t happening, unless you count PBS as educating yourself. When you see teachers that are literally the opposite of what healthy education should promote, you know that education is failing.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that education is representative of our culture. What is included in our education system is based on what our culture deems important. If we don’t consider cooking skills and applied knowledge of nutrition as important, then it will continue to be ignored in schools. And, while it continues to be ignored, people will continue to make poor choices, while blaming everyone else, and having documentaries to defend them.
‘Fed Up’ presents its information in a way that seems new, but there’s nothing new about it. Its approach is dumb-downed probably because it realizes that the people that need this documentary don’t have a very good education. In order to avoid insulting its audience, it avoids pointing this out. It also prefers to play to people’s preference to blame anyone but themselves.
Obesity = Problem with Education. Period.