The National Nutrition Summit in Washington last week forced on us the issue we'd all like to ignore -- that we're fat, getting even fatter and, worst of all, we've let many of our kids get dangerously overweight.
Adults: More than half of us are overweight.
Kids: Between 11 percent and 15 percent are overweight, and 25 percent are at risk of becoming overweight.
It's easy to see how this problem -- which is a very real health risk, not just a self-esteem issue by any means -- sneaked up on us.
Let's just for a minute indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Think back to the old days, when we parents were kids. Maybe we were fed casseroles containing cheese, sour cream and butter -- all in the same dish -- but there was a big difference.
We were forced to go outside and play.
In fact, many of us claim to have actually been locked out of the house during the long hours after school. Exceptions were generally made for blizzards, ice storms or downpours. (Except at school, in Wisconsin, when we grade-school girls jammed into a corner of the playground where two brick walls met. The competitive part was getting to the very corner, where one could stay warm for a minute or two, before the elbowing started again. We thought it was mean, but now, of course, we side with the nuns. That cold air is good for children!)
When you got shooed out of the house, you tended to move around -- walk down the street and see if kids were out and, as we got older, walk to the drugstore to look at magazines or stroll, with great anxiety, past the houses of cool eighth-grade boys.
Even that modest level of activity must have added up. In the last 20 years, the percentage of overweight children has more than doubled.
All right. So here we are, parents who have no time to cook. No energy to cook. We cook sometimes, but of course it's much easier to pick up pizza or go through the drive-through.
At one point it got so bad at my house that the boys adamantly refused to eat at McDonald's anymore. ''They have more sense than their mother,'' the pediatrician remarked.
Kids don't roam around all afternoon anymore, and in fact, it's not a good idea to let them roam around, given the current risks of unsupervised time.
This is yet another burden placed on us individually: Parents typically have to schedule, pay for and drive children someplace in order for the kids to be active.
Why isn't there daily physical education in the schools? (Because parents are not organized as an interest group yet.)
Why haven't we launched a counteroffensive on the fast-food industry? (Because it's one of the conveniences that make our lives bearable, truth be told.) A recent ''20/20'' broadcast on kids and soda consumption tried to scare parents about how much caffeine kids are ingesting. Like, I'm supposed to start being alarmed about caffeine now? Please -- that's the least of it.
But the segment was instructive nonetheless: Teen-agers boasted that they couldn't possibly get going in the morning if they didn't have their liter bottles of Mountain Dew. (Just aping adults' coffee consumption.)
But here's wimp mom in the well-appointed home, whining that her kids want it, so she buys it. What is she supposed to do?
Wimp mom: Try to think. Try to summon up a tiny little tissue-sample-scraping of that old countercultural feeling.
Get mad! Ask, how is it that I've been paying to bring this junk into my home? Wasting hard-earned money on stuff that's absolutely bad for my kids to have around?
How did I get duped by those ads? We're at the point now that kids think it's normal to eat doughnuts for breakfast, burgers for lunch, pizza for dinner. (And maybe it is normal for us, but then again -- it shouldn't be. We haven't been paying attention.)
Kids are duly instructed about the food pyramid and what they should be choosing to eat. You see the food pyramid printed on the school lunch menus.
But the school cafeteria is still serving burgers and hot dogs, and its ''salad bar'' offers canned pears and gelatin.
The National Nutrition Summit makes it obvious that both adults and kids need to be more active. What the Department of Agriculture can't really say is that the various food industries are a health threat, and that the food industries couldn't be more delighted that we're scarfing down their junk food at such profitable rates.
The government's new dietary guidelines say we should ''moderate intake of sugar.'' That was watered down from the advisory committee's language to ''limit'' sugar intake after intense lobbying by the food industry.
Of course, the government language must be restrained. But ours needn't be. You can tell kids that cheeseburgers and fries are high-fat foods that we shouldn't eat often, but that doesn't carry the wallop of ridiculing fast-food chains' advertising. Or ridiculing the food. Ridiculing ''super size.''
Outrage can make an impression. Deconstruct a Burger King ad for your kids -- point out that they'd have no choice but to wear those really baggy clothes if they kept eating at Burger King.
Point out that nonstop food advertising, and the ever-sprouting Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's outlets make it seem that this kind of food is harmless. In reality, diseases related to obesity are leading killers -- just like diseases related to tobacco use.
Point out that these corporations seem all friendly and clean-cut and nice, with their toys for kids and all, but the only reason they offer toys is to get parents to buy food there.
If we parents quit eating burgers we'd have to eat at home more often. We would have to be vigilant about buying nice, appetizing fruits and vegetables, and then actually preparing them and serving them -- not just letting them rot in the produce bin.
And we'd have to get up off our butts more often. (It's not hard.) But somebody's got to be the grownup around here, right?
See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site -- www.cdc.gov -- for all kinds of solid information, including a new method for determining if your child is overweight (www.cdc.gov/growthcharts). Search for ''overweight'' and ''obesity'' for information on how little it requires to achieve, really, ''moderate activity.''
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