With yet another birthday under my belt, I’m even more aware of the relentless, groaning approach of my own mortality. I’m officially “old enough” to know what I can and can’t do if I want to not just live longer, but live better; I cut caffeine after 3 p.m. (can’t sleep); I study nutrition labels of everything I put in my mouth; I’ve even started reading the obituary pages every morning, wondering why they don’t list the cause of death for people my age who’ve obviously died “too young.”

Yes, reaching the “age of responsibility” means you finally understand “cause” and “effect.” Too bad our kids do not.

A new report recently published in the journal of Pediatrics shows our kids are reaching for snack foods on the sly without consideration of calories or nutrition. They like junk food. We, in part, are to blame. Kelley E. Borradaile, the study’s lead author and a Temple University professor who works at the Center for Obesity Research and Education, says kids who head off to school with snack food money (even just a dollar or two) spend it on bad food choices. The study showed bad food was chosen most often because it’s cheaper and (the ultimate kid defense) “everyone else is doing it.”

For six months, researchers followed hundreds of Philadelphia inner city kids ranging in age from fourth through sixth grade. They tracked the purchases of kids who stopped at a nearby convenience store before and after school.

These kids bought tons of potato chips, sugared soda, chewy or hard candies and candy bars. The researchers figured the food choices added an extra 400 to 600 calories to each child’s daily intake. And, what happens when you up the ante on calories every day without increasing your activity level? You end up with fat kids.

I don’t think anyone is surprised by the alarming number of obese kids out there; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now says 38 percent of our kids are overweight or obese. As I write this, there’s a story airing on CNN about a South Carolina 455 pound 13-year-old kid who is going to be taken away from his parents because they haven’t been able to help him lose weight. This boy is diabetic, refuses to follow a diet and refuses to take his medicine. In the story, you see the boy sitting in a chair, playing a video game. Mom was interviewed in her living room with the blue blur of the television playing 10 feet away and oh yes, she also weighs about 400 pounds. In this story, sadly, the apple (or in this case, Snickers Bar) didn’t fall far from the tree.

Clearly, blaming video games, television, farmers or Farm Subsidies is pointing a finger in the wrong direction; yet that blame game has been played for decades. Who can change the rate of childhood obesity? Look in the mirror and ask yourself: what do you see when you look in the mirror? What lessons are you teaching? Are you making exercise a part of your day? Do you keep healthy food at home? Do you reward good behavior with bad food?

Our kids know what will happen to them if they come home with an “F” in math or reading. Why not teach them the “cause and effect” of what they put into their mouths, how eating bananas will prevent muscle cramps, how milk is the original protein drink of athletes, or how many miles they’d have to run to work off that bottle of soda (about two miles). Clearly, all parents, whether they’ve reached that “age of responsibility” or not, have to make wise choices on behalf of the little ones who are always watching. Now there’s something you can really chew on!

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.