The XX Factor

Thinking Big on Preventing Childhood Obesity

KJ , I have to disagree when it comes to the CSPI’s fight against the Happy Meal. The fact that consumers make poor choices doesn’t absolve companies for peddling their toxic wares. This is doubly true when it comes to children. While one can reasonably argue that an adult owns full responsibility for making poor nutrition choices, a child should not be made to suffer because she has weak-willed parents who give in to whining. Since the problem of ill health due to poor nutrition creates widespread social problems, it’s perfectly legitimate to seek widespread solutions such as destroying the Happy Meal.

On that subject, I have to say that if Michelle Obama is interested in reducing the rate of childhood obesity, maybe one interesting avenue to be explored is fighting against the negative, hypercompetitive world of children’s sports. Or, at least, that’s an idea that popped into my head reading this article by Lisa Boone about when it’s a good time to let kids quit sports. The article isn’t really focused on the importance of physical activity per se, but the image painted of coaches of children’s sports-mini-tyrants who far prefer the stick to the carrot and who drive all but the most dedicated away from sports-goes a long way toward explaining why so many children start to shun physical activity as not for them.

The snarling, right-wing cliche about the evils of giving every kid a trophy is on full display here. You’d think that was something new, when I recall having a participation trophy or two displayed in my room more than two decades ago. But the belief that we shouldn’t offer encouragement to kids until after they’re winners is especially lethal when we’re talking about physical activity. Being proud of yourself for just getting out there and doing it is a key component to physical fitness as an adult. The people who get up every day and get some real exercise do so because they’re proud of themselves even if all their hard work doesn’t turn them into professional athletes.

Photograph of Michelle Obama and gym class by Yuri Gripas/Getty Images.