Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Body (Politic)

I always thought I should eat when I was hungry and that my body was my body--okay the way it was. But then I got to middle school and the P.E. Teachers kept saying, "You have to eat healthy and be active or you'll get Type 2 Diabetes."

In other words, up until middle school my daughter accepted food as something one eats to respond to hunger, and accepted her body as completely fine just the way it was. And then, adolescence. Then, at the very same time millions of dollars have been targeted at making her think her body and appearance need fixing, her school chimes in, too. To her it becomes all mixed up into one message:

You thought you were okay--you're not.

Our schools have begun to address the epidemic of obesity in children but this is no quick fix. Little by little, over a long period of time, our culture and our schools have chipped away at things that promote health. Walking to school. Walking up and down stairs at school. Recess several times a day. Real food vs prepared foods, both at home and in the cafeteria. Add to this the huge increase in sugary drinks and snacks--available and expected--everywhere.

As schools have turned into little testing factories there is barely time for education about healthy eating, although I know they try. In fact, there is barely time to eat lunch in a relaxed and healthful manner. And in this tiny pressure cooker we call "lunch", why does the school system sell "snacks"? If an adequate lunch is available, what is the point of this?

All of this colors my thoughts about the Nutrional Standards Bill sponsored by Councilman Calvin Ball. I have heard both reasoned and inflammatory arguments against it. At the heart of most of the arguments is an assumption that all citizens are the same--

I'm pretty smart, and I can make healthy choices, so everyone else can, too.

But this is, in the end, the basic flaw of these arguments. All citizens are not like you. Or like me, for that matter. Our county is diverse. We have all sorts of people with differing amounts of time, money, and discernment.

Something we do share is increased health problems due to unhealthy eating, enough that it has become a public health issue both in Howard County and nationwide. What this bill does is to promote healthy choices by providing a greater variety of options. And if the consumer doesn't like those choices they are free to purchase their snacks elsewhere.

Attempts to describe this as "taking something away" are disingenuous. Also, acting as though this bill is violating the natural free market process ignores 1) the very real costs of obesity-related illnesses to all tax payers, and 2) the fact that consumers are free to shop somewhere else if they so choose.

To those who think this should all be done somehow through education, I refer you to the beginning of this post. They are doing what they can but in many ways the deck is stacked against them. Let's continue to support real changes which will bring more movement activities, more recess, less processed foods at lunch and more time to eat. I'm all for that.

But this alone will not address the needs of all our citizens. And when you are treating an epidemic, you must pursue many options. The Nutritional Standards Bill is about promoting the health and well-being of citizens. The beverage and snack industry has plenty of money in this game, but I don't think this means they know what's best.

Does "life and liberty" guarantee you the rights to all the unhealthy snacks and drinks you want if it renders you too sick to undertake your "pursuit of happiness"? How free is that?





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