Parents have a responsibility to protect their children from aspects of our world that may harm them. This means equipping our kids with the tools they need to make sound decisions themselves as they grow and begin to take on the responsibility of protecting themselves from those potentially harmful aspects of life. The decision making process is not always a simple one as some of the harmful elements of life seem to be readily accepted by large segments of our population.
Take cigarettes for example. Today we clearly understand that cigarette smoking is harmful to humans. But that has not always been the case. There was a time when science had proven clearly that cigarette smoking led to fatal diseases. And yet, it took three to four more decades to put a significant dent in the number of smokers in our country. The American Cancer Society reports that 42% of Americans smoked cigarettes in 1965.¹ In 2011 (the latest year for which data are available) 19% of Americans still smoke! That’s almost 1 in 5!
Q: Why are there still so many smokers?
Still, we can be thankful for the reduction – those lives saved. We can also keep striving for a further reduction. I suspect today’s parents are doing a better job of equipping their children with the decision making skills needed for the cigarette challenge. Government taxation is helping too. I am hopeful we will see those numbers continue to drop.
Q: In what way is our parenting environment like the one confronted by parents of 1965?
Today, researchers and doctors have clearly linked a nutritionally deficient diet and common processed food ingredients such as sugar and trans fats to fatal diseases. Like cigarettes, these harmful elements of life do not do harm in the short term; they do their damage over the long run. Also, like cigarettes, some of these food ingredients are proven to be addictive. Sugar and caffeine are the addictive ingredients most commonly used by processed food manufacturers today. But don’t forget that high glycemic carbohydrates such as wheat flour, rice flour, tapioca starch, corn meal, potato starch, and others are processed in the body as glucose (sugar) and can cause the same types of addictions and afflictions.
Like the marketers of cigarette companies in 1965, today’s processed food marketers are utilizing confusing messages and misinformation to slow the rate of decline in the use of their products. The cigarette industry came up with filters and low tar “light” cigarettes to dupe people into thinking they were being healthier. The processed food industry has, for some time now, used tactics such as “whole grains” to trick customers into thinking their products are healthier. Lately, the movement toward gluten free foods has been embraced by processed food peddlers with the introduction of gluten free cupcakes, gluten free brownies and gluten free cupcakes – all loaded with as much sugar as ever, or more. One popular brand of kefir (a fermented milk traditionally known for its health benefits when consumed in a traditional way) is pumped up with more sugar than America’s favorite soda in the red and white can. Another popular fruit juice “stripped of all its clothing” has as much sugar in one bottle as six donuts. These pseudo health foods are designed to play on our addictions and our misunderstandings about healthy eating.
The gluten free cookie is today’s light cigarette. (This is not to say gluten intolerance is not a real phenomenon, rather it is a comment on the way “gluten free” is misused as a marketing tool.)
Ah, but parents are more informed today than they were in 1965. Today’s moms and dads have the Internet. The truth about the toxic nature of sugar, the cancer causing properties of trans fats, and the addictive nature of caffeine (add sugar here too) are known to us. We are armed with the knowledge we need to raise our children to survive and thrive in today’s environment.
Given what most parents currently understand about the nature of processed foods, allowing or encouraging one’s children to eat processed junk foods or go through the “Golden Arches” drive thru is the equivalent of 1965’s parents allowing/encouraging their children to smoke cigarettes. We look back with the sharp clarity of history and know beyond any doubt that those parents of 1965 were wrong to do so.
Of course, not all parents were promoting cigarette smoking to their children in 1965. There were many enlightened parents who were, as we say today, first movers or early adopters. These parents had sharp judgment for their times and helped us move from 42% to 19%.
History will judge today’s parents in the same way when it comes to unhealthy foods. Our nation is in the middle of a health crisis. We have more overweight children and children who suffer from more allergies, more asthma, more autism, more ADHD, more diabetes, and more digestive issues. Today’s early adopting, enlightened parents are paving the way to a healthier nation. They recognize the smoke and mirrors tactics of the food industry. They are teaching their children to steer around such nonsense.
Today, we parents of 2014 have solid science on our side. We know today’s processed foods are bad for our children and us, and we have the opportunity to let history judge us as the enlightened ones. We need only to take action.
Action comes daily with every shopping decision at the grocery store, every decision to pass by the drive thru in favor of going home to prepare a home cooked meal, and every decision to pack a healthy lunch for our kids as they head off to school.
History will be the judge, but our children will be the true beneficiaries.
Image courtesy of tiverylucky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.