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Don’t Tread On… My Right To Eat Junk

This has never been a political blog. I believe delicious food and healthy eating is for everyone, left or right, blue or red. But every once in a while someone says something so irksome it can’t be ignored.

Before I dive into this, I feel like I must preface it by saying that I am a big fan of personal freedom and (this is actually pretty important) the personal responsibility that comes with it. Because of that, I guess I’m a bit of a conservative. Albeit a liberal one, if that makes sense. I’ll even cop to finding Sarah Palin fascinating, being all for the humane activity of hunting in Alaska and elsewhere, and even admiring her for some of her choices as a working mom.

I try to stay out of the fray — and I avoid political talk radio like trans fats — but I happened to catch part of an interview recently that Laura Ingraham did with Sarah Palin, in which Palin felt the need to slam the First Lady’s efforts to help improve kids’ diets, health, and nutrition. Here’s Palin’s quote:

“Take her [Michelle Obama’s] anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. And I know I’m going to be again criticized for bringing this up, but instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician’s wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track.”

So, how’s that for nasty and misguided? And Ingraham (who is definitely an inciter and tends to goad people) hadn’t even specifically asked. For a brief moment, I thought about what Palin said. Does the First Lady’s choice to grow an organic kitchen garden at the White House and start GNO called Let’s Move infringe on my God-given right to eat whatever junk food I want? Does helping families who live in “food deserts” get information about and access to healthy food somehow imply that they we can’t let parents to make their own decisions? Does advocating for healthier school lunches amount to a health “kick?”

Consider some undisputed facts about childhood health in this country:

  • Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese.
  • One third of all American children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.
  • Food and beverage portions are two to five times bigger than they were 30 years ago.
  • Americans now eat 31 percent more calories than we were 40 years ago.
  • The average American now eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.
  • And the average American child spends more than 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen, and only a third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.

Combine those with the fact that a recent military study found that our national security is actually compromised by the fact that 21 percent of recruits are now rejected for being overweight (many of these are young people from military families who want to serve and would probably make fine soldiers), it seems to me that if Michelle Obama wants to urge us all to take better care of ourselves and raise healthier children, she is doing a huge public service to say the least. On the site, Obama is quoted as saying, “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” I believe she is right.

I went to the Let’s Move website, and what I found was a lot of really sane, sound advice and resources for helping people learn about nutrition, diet, and exercise. There’s an easy-to-use BMI calculator and even some nifty cooking videos. I didn’t see any evidence of a massive government takeover of the food industry or our families’ grocery carts, or even any suggestion of new taxes. The only policy-related recommendations involve better (i.e. not misleading) packaging information for junk food (you know, like how a serving of potato chips is 10 chips). However, the “parents” section did include these “5 Simple Steps to Success”:

  1. Keep a bowl of fruit within your child’s reach to grab as a quick snack.
  2. Take a walk with your family after dinner.
  3. Plan a menu for the week. Get your children involved in planning and cooking.
  4. Turn off the TV during meals and share some family time.
  5. Talk to the principal about organizing a school health team.
Maybe these suggestions fall into the category of a “politician’s wife’s priorities” and “making decisions for us,” but they seem reasonable to me. And you know what? If this program encourages one family to sit down to a healthy meal together or eat more veggies or get off the couch, than I am all for it — and I can’t understand why Palin would have a problem with it. I mean, if politicians are serious about national security, reducing health care costs, and even how America competes in the global economy, this issue can’t be avoided, can it? This seems like an obvious public policy issue and not an infringement on anyone’s inalienable right to eat crap.
After all, many studies link health and nutrition to brain power. Maybe Sarah should consider laying off the Wonder Bread.

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This post has 2 comments

  • This is your best post to date! Not just because I loathe Palin, but because it highlights the insanity of our polarized political system. Our “leaders” (on both sides) are more interested in bashing their rivals than in what’s good for the people they are supposed to be leading. It’s blood thirsty competition, not leadership. And it’s killing our country. Literally (when it comes to health).

  • I agree. That’s why we need term limits — and to move the capitol from glamorous Washington D.C. with all its monuments, etc. to Fargo, ND. Let’s see who really wants to help people bad enough to live in the cold, gloomy upper Northwest!

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