The United States is one of the most obese countries in the world. This became very clear to me once I lived outside of the country. When I first arrived in South Africa I was on the plump side -- not obese, but certainly overweight. As an ex-pat, my way of eating changed tremendously. I still enjoyed great food, but in much smaller portions, and I began to visit the gym regularly. The change in my body was obvious. After several months of living in South Africa, my friends began to ask me the "secret" to my weight loss. There was no real secret; I started eating healthy foods, prepared mostly at home, and exercising.
I remember attending a brunch with my extended family when I returned to the U.S. for a visit. I was amazed by the portion sizes and could not stop commenting on the sheer enormity of the plates of food. I was so vocal about it that my family asked me to stop talking. It was interesting to me that in a mere nine months my thoughts surrounding the appropriate amount of food at a restaurant completely changed. I also noticed the vast number of overweight children in the States. This was truly a rarity in South Africa, I don't think I saw one overweight child during my two and a half years living there.
In 2009, 30% of our children in 30 states were overweight/obese. At that time, I was not a parent, and I was merely making observations. Now, as the mother of a two-year-old, I know I am responsible for my child's health. When I see overweight/obese children today, I place blame on the parents. Children don't control the food -- parents do. Our children learn how to eat from us.
About three months ago, my body mass index (BMI) placed me in the "obese" category. I'd been there for quite awhile, but I decided to take charge of my life and make changes. I want to be here for my son and hopefully live long enough to see my grandchildren. By changing my own eating habits, I will certainly influence my son. I admit that I have been caving a bit to his whimsical eating habits, but I am enlisting the help of a nutritionist and plan on serving my son the same foods that I eat. He may not eat it initially, but with time he will begin to try new things.
I have also started to become creative and add vegetables and protein to his favorite meal -- pancakes, to ensure that my toddler gets all of his nutrients. As a parent, this is my responsibility, to ensure that I provide the best for my child.
Jamie Oliver is a chef and a parent. Although he is from the U.K., he is concerned about our nation's children. He is a chef and most recently received the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) prize for his wish. (The TED prize is awarded annually to individuals that have exceptional ideas -- the winners receive $100,000 to implement their "wish.") Jamie's wish is "to teach every child about food." He has set up a grassroots organization to teach children about food, fight obesity and inspire families to cook again.
His Food Revolution is targeted at all Americans -- especially government and corporations -- to compel them to cut out the junk food that we feed our children, in schools and in the home. Jamie gave an exceptional talk during the TED conference with vivid examples to illustrate the necessity of the "Food Revolution." His work began in West Virginia, the third most obese state in the U.S., and what struck me the most during his talk was the fact that the children in one classroom did not recognize vegetables. That changed during two one-hour educational sessions. I've embedded the talk here, because I know it is worth watching. I hope Jamie inspires you to make changes, if you need to.
The top killer in the United States is obesity, and as Jamie so eloquently states, it is preventable. Our children (even if you are not a parent -- the children in your life) depend on us. If we continue down this path, we are sending our children to early graves.
Other moms who are thinking about childhood obesity:
More from parenting