Is it surprising that American kids are unhealthy?

Just the other day, I was standing in the check-out line at Dick's Sporting Goods. A quick glance at the products displayed there (you know the place, where the impulse items are put near the point-of-sale to get the kids' whining to a fever-pitch) quickly reminded me of one of my greatest pet-peeves about our wonderful country. There, in the athletic store - right across the isle from the running clothes...were shelves full of candy. To call it irony seems like an understatement. Mom, here is your cute jogging gear and bisphenol-A free water bottle. Junior, here is your squeezable liquid candy in a tube. Huh?

This is not the first time I've let this issue work me into a frenzy. I have coached soccer for many years and snacks are always a big topic of discussion. Both parents and kids are adamant about having snacks and to suggest that food is forgone is almost sacrilegious in America. But why? It seems completely ridiculous. These children spend their weekends enjoying sports. They get healthy exercise and do something good for their bodies...and then we feed them junk. Does an 8-year old really need Gatorade after a 45 minute soccer game? Has the daisy-picking depleted their little systems so much that electrolytes are required? And if their poor little bodies are so taxed that they actually do require Gatorade, than I believe this is an entirely different issue (which is also somewhere we may be headed in this country). Are mini-chocolate chip cookies a must for a good time to be had? A fruit roll-up does not count as fruit. Why do we need to celebrate everything with food? I believe we are sending kids a mixed message. We are also making it very difficult on mothers who are attempting to instill healthy habits in their kids. One day for lunch last week at my daughter's school, the menu was hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. How is my organic yogurt and fruit is supposed to compete?

There is another phenomenon in America that runs parallel to this issue. Health and thin should not so often be assumed to be the same thing. There are quite a few adults and children who appear very thin, but on a cellular level have bodies starving for real nutrition. It isn't about skinny - which is another concept that is difficult for a People magazine generation to understand. It is about staying away from processed food. It is about avoiding obesity. It is about health and fitness. It is about eating things that are closer to the way God made them. It is about fueling our body for optimal performance.

Are treats ok? Absolutely. As we've all learned, as soon as something is off-limits it becomes so much more desirable. But we have treats for everything: sports games, rewards, cold days, rainy days, happy times, sad times, potty-training, birth, death, recitals, parties, holidays...the "good reasons" are endless. If treats are always available, they are no longer treats. My son's class was practicing their counting with Skittles. Would it have been so awful to count with grapes - or carrot sticks maybe? We need to be more careful not to confuse our children or to tempt them beyond what they can handle. If unhealthy food is associated with every life experience, it can create habits which will be very much ingrained in our kids as they enter into adulthood. If you have heard of the book "Why French Women Don't Get Fat?" then you can probably imagine a similar title, "Why Children in America Are Unhealthy." We don't give our poor kids a fighting chance.

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