Thursday, May 30, 2013

Enough With the Otter Pops Already

My wife and I share a lot of responsibility with our twins.  We both work and we've been fortunate enough to have different work schedules so one of the ways we divide up some of the work is that my wife drops the kids off at their preschool and I pick them up.  Most of the time I'm there by 4pm and the vast majority of the time my kids have already had a snack.

Before I go too much further, let me say that our preschool has provided my kids with a very loving, nurturing environment.  They've met great friends, they've had great experiences and developed an early love of Judaism.  But one thing that our school needs to work on is the food they feed my kids.  

We provide lunches for them but the school often gives them snacks.  Since I pick them up I hear mostly about the afternoon snack. If you've ever met my daughter you'll understand why some people call her the "court reporter." She remembers everything and will report back to you anything you want to know about the day's events.  It's not common but there are some days that I pick them up and they have bright blue faces!  The "court reporter" yells, "Daddy, we had popsicles today!" They are smiling, excited to see me and they show me how blue their lips and tongues are.  Of course they're blue, that's what happens when you eat Otter Pops.

I know that some Otter Pops are now made with 100% juice and that they only have 40 calories per pop.  I know that some of you are saying what I've heard before, "Just lighten up." Well to be honest, I will not lighten up when it comes to feeding my kids, thank you very much.  When my kids feces is bright green the next day because of the food coloring in their popsicle, I will not lighten up.

There are plenty of alternatives to the neon glow of an Otter Pop.  Why not make some juice pops with the kids?  My colleague, Sumner Brooks, MPH, RD recommended frozen mango chunks.  I'm sure a handful of grapes or some watermelon would be equally refreshing as a popsicle.

I'm doing my best to raise my kids as intuitive eaters and I believe in the principles I've learned from Ellyn Satter.  My kids have eating habits that I'm proud of and I do not deny them any shortage of play foods inside and outside of our house but in the end the issue is this: when I see bright blue faces when I pick my kids up from school, a part of me feels like the hard work I'm putting in is being unintentionally undermined.  Dr. Yoni Freedhoff said it very well in this article he wrote, "Why is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junkfood?"
Somewhere along the line, we've normalized the constant provision of junk food to children. It seems no matter how small the ship or short the journey, sugar pretty much christens each and every voyage on which our children set sail. 
There's simply no occasion too small to not warrant a junk food accompaniment. But for me, the strangest part of all is the outcry that occurs if and when I point it out. My experiences have taught me that junk food as part of children's' activities has become so normalized that my questioning this sugary status quo genuinely offends people's sensitivities and sometimes even generates frank anger.
I'm hoping that the status quo will change soon and that my kids will not be supplied endless amounts of sugar and food coloring in the coming years but that might not happen.  I hope that we stop relying on the highly processed food as our go-to snacks for our kids.  I hope that when it comes to treats, we make it from scratch instead of getting it from a box.

What do you think?  Do any other parents struggle with what their kids are fed when they are not with them?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What's Wrong with Fat?

Photo Courtesy of Oxford University Press
I was fortunate enough today to attend a lecture with Abigail Saguy, PhD discussing her new book, "What's Wrong with Fat?"  It was a very interesting discussion and I'm excited to read the book to learn more about what she has to say about "fatness" and our society.

The major point of her discussion today was to help us question whether our society's emphasis on the "Obesity Epidemic" is really helping or are we stigmatizing those individuals who are overweight or obese.  By the way, Dr. Saguy used the word fat so I'll use that here instead of the former terms.

Her talk was very interesting and I'm not going list each point but the the highlight was learning about how we "frame" the obesity or fat issue has an effect on how we address it.  Most of my fellow employees in healthcare see fatness as a medical issue.  Something that can be cured or fixed with the right treatment.  Some of my fellow RDs see it as a public health issue where numbers are reaching epidemic proportions.  But lastly, there are some who would see fatness as a social justice issue, where fat is just a diversity issue and we must learn to accept people no matter what their size without bias or stereotypes.

She also discussed how no matter what perspective we use, there is research that would suggest that weight alone is not a good predictor of mortality.  One study she highlighted was Flegal KM, et al., 293[15]: 1861-7, 20 April 2005 in which the authors found this notion of an "obesity paradox" where people with BMIs between 26 and 29 (overweight) actually had a decreased risk of death compared to those in the normal weight category.

As we concluded she closed by questioning why our perception of fat changed over that last 100 years.  It used to be that being fat was a desirable trait but that is no longer the case.  But today, being fat is quite negative.  When you see someone who is fat, what do you think?  "They're lazy and weak. They're slobs and how could they do this to themselves?"  One interesting point that Dr. Saguy made was by explaining that a disproportionate number of minorities and lower income people are fat compared to other groups.  Fatness aside, these groups are also ones that are often discriminated against for other reasons so are we just adding another by making obesity such an issue?

As a dietitian, this topic is extremely important in the work that I do.  Many of my colleagues and other health-care providers will not agree with me, but I agree with Dr. Saguy and I feel that if we can take weight out of the equation we can focus on the behaviors that really matter.  Why should we force our clients to lose weight when 1) most will likely gain weight and 2) losing weight might not improve their health unless they change their behaviors?

As a individual, this topic hits home with me.  I am fat!  I have a belly but that does not limit me in my health.  I can run, I can play sports, I can bike and I am healthy.  I know that some of my clients and some of my fellow employees look at me and say to themselves, "Why is this guy teaching a class on losing weight! He should take some of his own advice."   Well to those folks I say this: my weight is just one part of me. From what I learned today and what I continue to learn, it does not mean I have five years less to live than you.

So what do you think, does Dr. Saguy make you change the way you think about how we frame the question of obesity/fatness?