Where to Start - Capital Area Food Bank
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Where to Start

By Admin May 27, 2008

by Ona Balkus, Operation Frontline DC Assistant Coordinator, Americorps VISTA
Last week, the Washington Post ran a series of articles entitled: “Young Lives at Risk: Our Overweight Children”, highlighting the child obesity epidemic that is causing disease, and in some cases death, for many of our nation’s children. I was impressed and touched by the Post writers’ insight, focus, and sensitivity regarding the issue. The personal profiles of young people in the DC area such as David Quiroz, 12, who last fall weighed 215 pounds, were the most effective stories for me, as we heard from local communities about their fear when a child’s weight hinders his or her well-being. David, a determined young man, struggles every day to resist the unhealthy foods that penetrate his school and community.

When we hold an Operation Frontline class for parents, they often talk about their children’s weight as something they would like to control but don’t understand how they can improve their family’s food routines. Comparisons to their own childhood and confusion about how this epidemic has evolved run rampant. And it’s true—we all ate candy and cookies when we were young (many more of us also had access to safe playgrounds and streets). Parents also feel the pulls of a basic instinct: to nourish and show love for their children by providing the foods that their children demand. When a family is low-income, the need to provide nourishment for one’s children is in jeopardy, and can entail more consumption of high calorie, unhealthy, inexpensive foods. Food brings the family together, a bright point in daily lives otherwise strained by costly bills and unsafe neighborhoods.
Veronica Gray, the guardian of a young woman struggling with her weight, conveys this feeling in one Post article. “We’re not big drinkers or big smokers, but we have food… That’s the joy; that’s the good feeling. Food is comforting. But in the long run, it is only hurting us.”
I enjoyed the glimpses of progress that the Post writers documented, such as the principal in Columbia Heights who has pledged to lose 100 lbs. over the course of the school year as a symbolic figure for a school-wide effort to become healthier. This type of personal behavior change is a valuable component of the fight against childhood obesity. Having watched the changes that Operation Frontline participants make, I can attest to the power of information and intention.

However, the Post series also affirms the need for larger, systemic improvements in our national food system. Even with education and a will to change, parents are still raising a generation of children awash in junk food commercials, afraid to play outside, cut off from sufficient P.E. classes and relying on vending machines as their main food source at school. This needs to be a policy priority in all levels of government through a variety of means, including education, marketing, food subsidies, and financial aid.
Washington Post “Facts You Should Know” #5: “Only 2 percent of U.S. children eat a healthy diet as defined by the USDA.
Thank you to the Washington Post for starting this long-overdue conversation.