Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feeding Frenzies, Here and There

The rising threat of childhood obesity in America is in the Washington Post spotlight this weekend offering a bizarre contrast to recent headlines about worldwide hunger and starvation.

"In ways only beginning to be understood," the Post reports, "overweight at a young age appears to be far more destructive to well-being than adding excess pounds later in life...

"Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily: boys and girls in elementary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and painful joint conditions; a soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in pediatricians' offices; even a spike in child gallstones, also once a singularly adult affliction...

"With one in three children in this country overweight or worse, the future health and productivity of an entire generation--and a nation--could be in jeopardy."

The inequality mirrored in overfed children here and starving children elsewhere is complex on both sides of the equation.

Crop failures, hoarding, corruption, manipulated food prices, even natural disasters exacerbated by political stupidity (as in Myanmar) are part of the politics of starvation that resist humanitarian and financial aid efforts.

The alarming rise in American childhood obesity has roots in a culture of sedentary pastimes, among other causes, but fast food and nutritional ignorance contribute to an epidemic that may overwhelm our health care system in generations to come, even as increasing economic disparities of the Bush years leave pockets of hunger and malnutrition here that resemble Third World suffering.

If human beings can't get their act together on something as basic as rationally providing and consuming food for the survival of the species, what hope is there for progress on the knottier problems of civilization?

1 comment:

R. S. Abrinaud said...

I'm currently teaching in Japan, and since I've been here, I've noticed several things about my students in relation to their health and fitness. First of all, these kids eat junk food, but they eat far less than their American counterparts. There are no food vending machines on campus and the drink machines are on timers, so it's only possible to purchase from them at lunch and after-school. Furthermore, there's no such thing as the school cafeteria--not as we know it. In elementary and middle school, there is Q-shoku--the school-provided lunch, which students often have a hand in helping prepare and serve. In high-school, students are on their own. The majority of my students bring their lunch from home, and while these lunches aren't always super healthy, they're far more nutritious than the 20 oz. cola and mountain of french-fries I used to see my students in the U.S. consume on a daily basis.

More importantly, students here engage in lots more physical activity. The only kids who take the bus to school are pre-schoolers or kindergarten students and children with special needs. Everyone else gets there under their own steam--be that walking or biking. Occasionally parents drive their kids to school, but that's rare. Even students who come in from a distance (anywhere from 6 to 10 miles) ride their bikes to and from school.

Not only do they walk and bike to get around, these kids have mandatory physical conditioning classes at least three times per week, AND at my school in particular, 80% of the student body is involved in some sort of after-school sports club.

You still see overweight children, occasionally, but they are the exception, not the rule. I think that is in large part due to the Ministry of Education's wise realization that a child's health and physical well-being is just as important as test scores.