Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980. At present, at least 17 percent (12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years is obese. Childhood obesity increases the risks of chronic disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, major contributors to low quality of life and bulging health-care costs. To pay for school programs in the short term, we are creating an obese, unhealthy generation and further driving up our health-care costs. Clearly, as a society, we need to re-evaluate our priorities.
Last year, President Obama's much-hyped Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act stopped short of limiting bake sales in schools for fundraising purposes. New York City schools banned homemade baked goods (sparking cries that it was becoming a nanny state), but they still allow commercially packaged goods that aren't really any better. Policymakers may have heard us, they are not doing enough.
In any event, dealing with childhood obesity may be a national priority, but the key to success lies at the local -- and maybe the neighborhood -- level. Should we wait and watch till someone else puts a hold on this? I strongly suggest that parents and teachers take responsibility and come up with a constructive plan. I don't think banning snack sales is logical or realistic. But we can sell healthier substitutes: cut fruits, popsicles, yogurt, crackers with cheese, flatbread with hummus, veggie wraps and more.
Further, why must we sell food items all the time? We're selling children short if we don't believe they would part with their allowance money for small fun toys, stickers, yo-yos, balls, balloons and books. Parents and teachers should collaborate to chalk out a little more innovation and do what it takes to make a real difference in the lives of our children.