THE FAMILY MEAL
What should be keeping us together is killing us!
Welcome to “The Family Meal.”
The issue of childhood overweight and obesity is the results of the combination of an unhealthy diet and sedentary behavior. Based on evidence from the National Institute of Health, overweight and obesity are of epidemic proportion.
Each area of life in the United States is an effect of industrialization. Our environment is crowded with factories, businesses, and housing with limited open space and parks as once was enjoyed. Specialized well paying jobs are limited and work hours have been cut to increase the bottom-line of corporations, making a second income a necessity. As family economics suffer, women flood the workforce, their earnings barely compensating for childcare and other work related expenses. As everyone is working so hard, they at least should be able to have some enjoyment and they escape into the latest technology, a television, computer, DVD player, and the latest cell phone. We are spending and spending without satisfaction.
Couples are frustrated as the American dream is beyond their grasp.
To make things easier, to put an end to the days responsibilities, to get dinner faster, as our time is limited, industrialized food is the answer, processed foods high in sodium, sugar, and fat. Unhealthy diets are found on tables across America, and not only in fast food restaurants, but in my kitchen and yours.
AN OBESE NATION AND PROUD
The numbers are in and they are alarming.
“Since 1980, the incidence of child (ages 6–11) overweight status has doubled, as 32% of children are either at risk for becoming overweight or are overweight. Adolescent (ages 12–19) incidence of overweight status has tripled; 16% of adolescents are overweight.” (Kihm 2008:6). Being fat has become the norm.
According to Ogden et al. (2008; 2006), the “Evidence for the epidemic of child obesity in the United States is clearly shown by current prevalence rates” as they have “indicated that 12%-18% of 2-19 year old children and adolescents are obese” (Garasky 2010:1) It has become fashionable for girls to have their fat bellies hanging out.
According to Manson and Bassuk (2003),”Obesity is a common complex disease with a huge public health burden; in the United States 65 percent of the adult population is either overweight or obese” (North and Martin 2008:184). Yet they proudly strut their stuff as there always seems to be someone fatter.
As we see, the incidence of overweight in children and adolescents double and triple respectively since 1980 and according to Styne (1999), “overweight and obese children are likely to remain over- weight or obese during adulthood“(Kihm 2008:13). And then they, too, can take their kids for a supersize meal.
“ONE LESS EGG TO FRY”
The historic changes in US society through the twentieth century, have taken women from their homes and into the workforce in the post-Great Depression era, to supplement family income.
Following World War II, as men moved from rural life on the farm to cities with industry, there was a spike in the divorce rate. “Father’s could leave his family,but take his income with him” (Hernandez, 1993:193). Additionally, as the divorce rate spiked following each economic recession this created the need for women to earn a wage to help support her family or be able to do so in the event of divorce.
Although, in the later half of the century states required fathers to pay child support and more mothers worked, according to the US Bureau of the Census, (1990). Furthermore, in 1980, poverty amongst children in the United States was 17.1% for all families, and 51% in single parent households (Hernandez, 1993:199, Fig 19).
Divorce removes one plate from the dinner table. Divorce sends the cook out into the workforce. Divorce leaves pockets empty. Divorce changes the traditional family meal.
What are their prospects?
THE MODERN FAMILY:
When Mom’s Not Home
Families with working mothers whose time is limited for meal preparation and families living in urban areas with less money for food and limited access to grocery stores have sacrificed the nutritional quality of the food their family consumes, out of necessity, as they move away from the home cooked meal to the industrialized prepared meal and to fast food. St-Onge et al. (2003) found these constraints due to women being in the workforce as likely to “contribute to obesity rates” (Ulijaszek and Lofink 2006:348).
As both parents leave the home to work, struggling families who cannot afford childcare leave older children to a latch-key situation and young children are left to childcare providers who may not be equipped to meet the physical and emotional needs of children. As a study that examined children age 5-11 states, “Among younger children, overweight and obese children experienced a greater lack of cognitive stimulation and emotional support compared to healthy weight children.” Garasky et al. (2009:2.2.6). However, this study does not examine the environment of the child. Furthermore, to my understanding, cognitive and emotional support is not synthesized to children through the television.
As I’ve stated, we are living in a latch-key society. Older children often come home from school, while the parent or parents are typically still at work, locking the door behind them. They are not playing in parks. They are securing themselves in the home away from harm, but are they? They return home after sitting in school to sit in front of their television set, playing video games, and/or sit in front of the computer. This sedentary behavior has increased in both children and adults alike, they continue to burn less calories and the rate of obesity continues to rise.
Life in Front of the Television
Cognitive and emotional support is not synthesized to children through the television. Even when families are at home together, with television sets in varied rooms of the house; families are distracted from constructive interaction with one another. With the increasing affordability of technological devises enabling viewing separate from one another, the family scatters to view programs separately according to individual preference, further dividing the family while messages are injected through commercials. Brownell (2002), argues, “Television also increases exposure to the commercial marketing of energy-dense foods. In the 1990s, children in the United States watched on average approximately 10,000 television advertisements for food each year, 95% of which were for foods in one of four categories: sugared cereals, sweets/chocolate, fast food, and soft drinks.” (Ulijaszek and Lofink 2006:348)
While watching television many people snack. According to Stroebele and de Castro (2004), American’s “often snack without feeling physically hungry, especially when distracted by an external stimulus, such as watching television.” (Ulijaszek and Lofink 2006:348) Furthermore, “It is more difficult for humans to accurately monitor how much they have eaten when distracted” Wansink (2004) as quoted by (Ulijaszek and Lofink 2006:348). Yet, to my knowledge, Americans take their snacks in front of the television often eating from the carton, box, or bag, instead of presetting their portion. Also children typically, when arriving home from school take a snack, as dinner may not be served for several hours. If they were at the park, active with exercise and friends, they would be burning calories instead of snacking in front of the television.
In response Gorely et al. (2004) cautions “although both time spent watching television and rates of obesity increased concurrently in the United States since the 1960s, a causal link between the two has yet to be demonstrated.” (Ulijaszek and Lofink 2006:348) As I digest Ulijaszek and Lofink 2006, I hypothesize…
- As television viewing is a sedentary behavior, which provides frequent images of unhealthy food.
- Television viewing is stimulus that distracts attention from the amount of snacks being consumed while viewing.
- Since 1960, there has been an increase in both television viewing and obesity.
This being said, I believe there to be a causal relationship between television viewing and obesity, worth further study.
Weekends With Dad
My ex said, “I’m not going to be like other fathers,” as he was as aware as I was how non-resident fathers tend to overindulge their children during their weekly visits. For a long time to me this seemed only to be lip service, but as the years go by I have better perspective. Spending the little time they had together dealing with the task of grocery shopping, food preparation, and dishwashing meant work and this wasn’t going to be how they spent their time off together.
So, on Saturday mornings, once they were out from underneath my feet, I’d proceed to get the house clean, the laundry done, and then out to food shop while they were off to ‘the land of no responsibility’. Stewart (1999) coined this concept “Disneyland”, as time simply occupied with “leisure activities (e.g., picnics, movies, and shopping) that are likely to involve eating away from home, which has been shown to be associated with obesity” (Menning and Stewart 2008:1674). Each weekend my children would dine at any one of the many chain food restaurants.
What bothered me most when they were young were the portion sizes, as they were allowed to order off the adult menu. Being a child of divorce seems to be a reason why, according to Jahns et al. (2001) “Children in the United States eat more food away from home, drink more soft drinks, and snack more frequently than 20 years ago” (Ulijaszek and Lofink 2006:348). That is the case for my children and each weekend means hamburgers, fried chicken, french fries and lots of soda. As they indulge when they are with their father, these items are very rarely served at home.
A child’s visitation, with their nonresident father is more problematic the greater the distance between the child and the father’s home. “Children who visit their fathers frequently may spend a lot of time in the car traveling back-and-forth between parents. Visitation may make it harder for them to exercise and participate in after-school activities, including sports” (Menning and Stewart 2008:1696). My children travel a great distance each weekend to see their dad and once they hit their teens and learned how to push each other’s buttons, which could make a trip around the corner misery, he began giving them snacks for the ride. He made the most out of the “Get your own bag!” (Shapiro 1992) campaign. No matter how many servings in the bag, this quieted them when set alongside a soda or slurpie. My next job was to teach them to read nutrition labels.
CONCLUSION: TAKING RESPONSIBILITY
In today’s society, when it is just so much simpler to hit the drive thru than to cook the meal, you really need to consider the total cost. My life would be so much more difficult if I, or any one of my children, didn’t have good health. Obesity is a big issue. It’s more than your belly sticking out; it’s illness and an early death.
Maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge with all of the additives that are in processed foods and the lure of the value meal. As I taught my children, “everything in moderation” is the key and “get up and do something” meaning you can’t just sit there exercising your fingers on digital devices. Try walking the first five blocks then catch the bus. Bend down and smell the roses. Have a healthy picnic in the park. You only live once, live long, live healthy.
Garasky, Steven, Susan D. Stewart, Craig Gundersen, Brenda J. Lohman, and Joey C. Eisenmann. 2009. “Family Stressors and Child Obesity.” Social Science Research, 38.4:755-66 Retrieved March 25, 2010.
Hernandez, DJ. 1993. The historical transformation of childhood, children’s statistics, and social policy Childhood 1:187-201. Sage Publications. Retrieved April 16, 2010. http://chd.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/1/4/187
Kihm, Holly S. 2008.”Child Weight Status and Young Adult Quality of Life: Is There a Reason for Concern?” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal Se37.1: 6-14. Sage Publications. Retrieved March 29, 2010. <http://fcs.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/37/1/6>.
Menning, Chadwick L., and Susan D. Stewart. 2008. “Nonresident Father Involvement, Social Class and Adolescent Weight.” Journal of Family Issues 12th ser. 29: 1673-700. Sage Publications. Retrieved March 29, 2010. <http://jfi.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/29/12/1673>.
North, Kari E., and Lisa J. Martin. 2008. “The Importance of GeneEnvironment Interaction: Implications for Social Scientists.” Sociological Methods Research 2nd ser. 37:164-200. Sage Publications. Retrieved March 29, 2010. <http://smr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/refs/37/2/164>.
Ulijaszek, Stanley J., and Hayley Lofink. 2006 “Obesity in Biocultural Perspective.” Annual Review of Anthropology 35: 337-60. AR Journals. Retrieved March 30, 2010.<http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.anthro.35.081 705.123301?prevSearch=Obesity%2Bin%2BBiocultural%2BPerspective&search HistoryKey=%24%7BsearchHistoryKey%7D>.