Originally published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News.
Whenever we happen to have a meal out, we opt for water instead of any sweetened beverages. Often enough we get an extra question regarding the boys. ‘Them too, water?’ Yes, them too. Water does it. I saw a cartoon today depicting a potted plant with a jug of water next to it, and for comparison, a child with a can of pop. The message was something along the lines: you give water to your plants, why give pop to your children?
It is often assumed that children’s well-being is closely linked to them sugary drinks and treats. I include fruit juices in that category too, since the content of sugar is high enough to make them a treat rather than a healthy option. And no, the vitamin C content does not matter when there is so much sugar hitchhiking a ride through the body too.
On October 11 on World Obesity Day (sad that we have something like that nowadays), the World Health Organization proposed a 20 percent tax increase on sugary drinks. That’d be a good start. The same should apply to fast food though, and soon. Perhaps followed by an objective-thinking fellow or group of (meaning someone with people’s well-being in mind) who would put the brakes on the increasing amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup finding their way into foods that are not even considered sweet to begin with. Sounds crazy and backwards simply because it is.
That does not affect children and teenagers only, but all the age groups. If you think the WHO proposal is a tad exaggerated, take a look at the obesity stats: worldwide 600 million people are obese. For comparison, approximately 795 million people do not have enough food to eat on a regular basis.
Almost 100 million children in developing countries are underweight due to continuous hunger (I find it very cynical that we call these countries ‘developing’ given the raw situation people face there) and 3.1 million children die of starvation yearly. The number of obese children worldwide reached 233 million this year. Numbers are truly stunning.
As for Canada, we have nothing to brag about. One in four adult Canadians and one in 10 children are clinically obese. That means an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer, to name but a few. Not to mention a decreased self-confidence and even more serious psychological issues in case the of teenagers and children. Yep, it’s a mean world out there and the flow of perfect bodies, many advertised by the very companies that make us fat, is a never ending one too. Which is why rethinking the way we eat and feed our children has to happen, and soon.
In that context, the news that we are about to see yet another fast food place getting built right by a school (McGill and Columbia, right next to the new Stuart Wood Elementary) sounds like a bad joke. If anything, school curriculum should be focusing quite a bit on what healthy food is and why it is important that we eat that instead of junk food.
That should work hand in hand with government subsidies to the small farms, with education sessions on healthy eating which can include cooking classes too (imagine your doctor writing a prescription for that!), and with city halls being adamant about not allowing fast food places to pop up near schools.
It may seem otherwise, but we are in the driver’s seat. We can make choices and with our choices we can influence the way businesses come and go in our city. As long as we keep in mind the big picture and the reason for giving up on sugary, rich-in-everything-but-nutritionally-poor foods, there is hope yet that obesity and the health-related issues threatening children and adults alike will slowly disappear.
An argument I hear often from people who hold onto their bag of candy or cookie box is that you only live once so might as well live it up. Yet the thing is, when we choose nutritionally poor foods we live it down and our quality of life and overall health levels are decreasing, despite the momentarily immersion in gustatory bliss.
That bliss can also be achieved from a different direction and with much better outcomes by reminding our taste buds of the foods intended to keep up both happy and healthy. As for side effects, I foresee only good ones: eating less (nutritionally adequate foods are satisfying in smaller amounts) while appreciating food more. That will also take care of the indecent issue of today’s western society, which is food waste.
Worth a try, don’t you think?