Monday, January 22, 2007


Ok, so after a fairly long hiatus, I am returning with something a bit inane. I have an article about how bad the Day of Action and Remembrance Against Violence Against Women is, which I have been planning to respond to. But, I haven't organized myself on that one. So, in the meantime . . . obese children . . .

Today the Globe had articles about both phys. ed classes and school cafeteria food. The premise was sound - childhood obesity is on the rise, and something needs to be done about it. However, I felt like there were elements in the discussion which are often missing that might be worth thinking about.

I hated gym class when I was a kid. I quit gym after I'd made it through the mandatory requirement in grade 9. I was glad to see in the article in the Globe that our school systems are moving away from a sports skill based program to one of general activity and fitness. I have managed to be relatively healthy and active throughout my life, but I definitely didn't learn any love of physical activity in gym class, which I was never particularly good at, and am glad that I am now an adult and can choose activities that aren't team sports (I like to swim, bike, hike, work out on my own at the gym).

I think that school is an important place to learn to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives, but it has to come in all shapes and sizes, and not just be based on skills at sports. Maybe non-athletic children need small challenges - pedometers to encourage them to walk more. Activities where they only have to run for a short time, and don't need particular coordination. It's hard to go from being completely out of shape to running around on the soccer field or trying to hit a baseball, and it can be a turn-off (I am still trying to get over my aversion to running, grounded in the cross-country program that our elementary school did, which consisted of sending us out to run . . . I was shocked at about the age of 25 to learn there is TECHNIQUE to running . . .).

It also has to come from home. Children don't spend all day at school - so there's a portion of the day when they could be active outside of the school context. If a parent drives to the corner store, then the child is going to think that's an option. If the parent never rides a bike or goes skating, why should the child want to?

I thought that this article missed the point a bit more than the one about exercise. A lot of the healthier options in school cafeterias, at least in my day, were quite unappetizing. When I lived in residence (1997), the pasta was good, and the salad bar and sandwich bar were both decent, but the hot meals that weren't processed were disgusting. This article talked about one school where the students were passing up shepherds pie and vegetables for french fries with gravy. That's because processed shepherd's pie and frozen vegetables are gross.

There was one mention of a school where there was squash soup and fresh baked fries. Now, that's good food that tastes good - but it costs more. So, there's the rub. Good healthy food generally costs more. Perhaps the school boards and governments, if they are going to take this seriously, need to be subsidizing fresh food. . . but when they are already cutting programs left right and centre, I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Perhaps, another thing that schools should be doing is extending their home-ec classes. When I took my mandatory course in grade 8, we learned the basics, but didn't really learn to make a full good healthy meal. This is something that would transfer over from school to home where kids are in charge of meal preparation.

The commentary on the Globe and Mail website is often fairly cutting. I usually avoid it, but I was interested in what people had to say about these articles. There was one person who mentioned that the problem was that we coddled our lard-butt children and had to tell them they were fat and had to move. This reader suggested there should be no such thing as "love you body week" at schools. While the underpinning of this argument may be sound - that children who are obese have to be encouraged to take control of their health, I still find this tone problematic. People hate their bodies, and it's a problem. Telling an obese child that her body is disgusting is probably not a good way to encourage mental health. It seems it would make more sense to encourage children to love their bodies for what they can do - to feel good about being strong and fast and healthy. Children shouldn't be obese - but there's a large gap between obese and movie star thin . . .

Ok, that's my rant of the moment. I speak from the position of someone who doesn't have any children, and is aware that it's going to cost a lot of money to change the system . . . but I still think it's worth thinking about.

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