Marshmallows and Mountain Dew for breakfast!? This was my reaction when I recently heard a story about a mother who brought her child to preschool with a bag of marshmallows and a can of Mountain Dew for breakfast.
With obesity now affecting 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, triple the rate from just one generation ago, I cannot believe that there are parents who consciously make such poor nutrition choices for their children. For years I have been a parent supporter and have encouraged others not to judge parents on how they raise their children. My experience has been that all parents want what is best for their children, even though many parent differently than I would. However, I must admit that I cannot help but to judge this parent, as I truly cannot come up with one possible scenario or circumstance that would support the decision to provide this kind of breakfast to a child. Other than to wonder, do we really have parents who do not understand the impacts poor nutrition and obesity have on our children?
My background is not in the medical field, but is in the field of mental health. I have heard, read and experienced enough to know that obesity can lead to health problems for adults, such as diabetes, heart attack, stroke, respiratory illness and joint problems. As parents are we aware that obesity in children can lead to the same health problems? In addition to health problems, many obese children and teens are at greater risk to experience social and psychological problems. Many children struggle to “fit in” with their peers; this struggle affects their confidence, self worth and self image. In my experience, over-weight children are often ridiculed by their peers, are the target of bullying or are socially isolated as they withdraw from social opportunities due to high levels of anxiety or depression. Certainly there are no parents who would want their child to experience these types of health or social issues. So why then is childhood obesity on the rise?
There are researchers who have investigated this very question and have suggested the accessibility and ease of fast food, children being less active and genetics. And for each of these contributing factors there is information available on how to ensure better nutrition and health for our children. For me, the solution is obvious. Ensuring the wellness of our children has to be a priority. Our children are not automatically resilient. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that “they are just kids” and that their young bodies and minds can bounce back. We need to teach our children about nutrition, we need to set expectations about exercise and we need to make intentional choices that support the wellness of our children and ourselves. Does this mean you never give fast food or candy to your child? Not necessarily. But it does mean you intentionally make time to be active with your child, you make sure your child eats well, is hydrated before a sporting activity and you plan and prepare good meals.
I do realize that there are always exceptions and some children because of illness or genetics may struggle with obesity. In writing this, I mean to encourage parents to be aware and intentional about nutritional choices and expectations. Because in my opinion, there really is no excuse for marshmallows and Mountain Dew for breakfast.