Working with nutritionists such as Robert Keith on the subject of child nutrition for the past couple of decades, I’m still frequently reminded of what a highly complex subject this is.
Numerous studies underscore the fact that children have to be reached early in life. Early success can produce a rich harvest — the reason why effectively instilling children with adequate nutrition skills by age 3 could be accurately described as the gift that keeps on giving. Children who develop these skills have a much better chance of avoiding many of the chronic diseases now so frightfully common in the western world and, to and increasing degree, throughout the world — obesity, followed by type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and certain obesity-related types of cancer.
On the other hand, abject failure or simple negligence can result in a lifetime, however brief, of chronic suffering associated with these obesity-related diseases.
A study of roughly 400 fourth- and fifth-grade schoolchildren in Alabama’s impoverished Black Belt region revealed just what a heavy price many impoverished young people already are paying because of this lack of nutrition knowledge. An estimated third of the children in the study are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.
Adult-onset, also known as type II, diabetes already is showing up in children as young as age 2.
Predictably, much of the problem stems from disengaged parents and inadequate recreational facilities.
Government, schools, the health sector and, yes, corporate America have roles to play in reducing these alarming rates of obesity. But the primary burden will remain on the parent, particularly while children are under age 3.
Much of this involves showing how eating can be fun. Persistence is important, too. Parents shouldn’t give up the first time their children turn their noses away from the first plate of spinach or broccoli. Over time, if they see their parents eating healthy foods and, equally important, deriving enjoyment from them, they will, too.