Friday, October 29, 2010

Kids Are Obese, But It's Their Own Fault

It's almost time for trick-or-treating, and a few tight-ass adults are going to get the horrible idea to give out apples instead of Reese's. They will say, "oh kids are obese these days. They don't eat right, and they don't get any exercise." These grown-ups seem to think ruining kids' fun will impart some sort of lesson. But it's actually counter-intuitive. Kids don't go trick-or-treating because they have some sick desire to be unhealthy, but simply because it is fun.

We hear about fat kids all the time nowadays. They sit around inside and don't get enough exercise. They eat too much sugar and drink too much pop. And it's true, kids are fatter than ever and they are putting themselves at greater overall health risks at an alarmingly early age. But we can only blame the parents for giving their kids too few options for fun. After that though, it's in the kids' court, and they have to change their habits if they want to turn the obesity trend around.

How can I say such a thing? Well, first of all, think back to when you were a kid. Even back then, you maintained a certain lifestyle. A childish lifestyle. What were your interests? What were your social habits like? Did you have a strong desire to do exactly what your parents told you to do? When they said, "eat your cauliflower," did you happily oblige them? Of course you didn't. Kids always rebel against their parents, and refuse to eat their cauliflower.

But why weren't we as fat? Even though we were just as stubborn about eating vegetables, we were skinnier back then. Are kids just lazier nowadays, or what?

The difference back then wasn't less TV. We sat in front of the boob tube for entire Saturday mornings. It wasn't eating less candy. We pigged out every Halloween, and it was great. The difference was just a different lifestyle, which was determined (as it still is today) by the type of media we took in. And the key factor for our lack of obesity is that back then we still had something called Bugs Bunny.

This wise-ass rabbit outsmarted Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck with smarm and cool, always with a Freudian power bar in his mouth. The carrot. With no inhibitions, he would calmly stroll up to an antagonist while munching away, asking that same question every time, "What's up, Doc?"

Subconsciously, we saw this as the ultimate act of confidence. We loved it. And every damn one of us at some point in our childhood lives took a carrot in his or her fingers, twiddled it, and mimicked Bugs with our own attempt at "Ehhhhh... What's up Doc?"

And then, we ate the carrot.

It wasn't because we enjoyed the taste either, we just wanted to act like Bugs Bunny. Carrots are actually a very bland food, certainly not something a child would want to eat for any other reason except to portray a cartoon character.

These days, Bugs Bunny isn't even on TV anymore. The most popular cartoon is Sponge Bob Square Pants, and he works at a fast food restaurant called Krabby Patties. Their first role models are eating the junkiest of junk foods, and we're surprised that kids are fat?

Look at their media to see what they mimic. Kids are dumb, not yet capable of making decisions for themselves regarding the healthiest way to live. All they know is what's fun. They aspire towards fun. If parents would only remember this, they'd have a much easier time keeping their kids' weight down.

I had the pleasure of watching a few Popeye cartoons when I was a kid. When I saw that his ingestion of spinach brought forth an explosion of strength and action, what do you suppose I did? I ate some spinach. It didn't make me stronger, but I pretended that it did anyway. I picked up a wicker chair above my head and yelled "spinaaaaach!"

This is a child's logic. They do not care if they're healthy or unhealthy. They'll eat carrots and spinach if the food is associated with one of their favorite cartoons though. Kids like to pretend. Reality is a fairly new concept to them, something they don't entirely understand. They believe in monsters under their beds and Santa Claus. They're inclined to act imaginatively. And they'll go outside if they know they'll have fun out there, even if it's make-believe fun.

The best example of how a kid can learn how to play outside is found in a comic strip. Calvin and Hobbes should really be required reading for all kindergartners, because the hero of the strip goes through a true to life experience of no-fun parents bent on "building character" for reasons incomparable to a six-year-old.

Calvin sits in front of the TV a lot, watching cartoons while eating sugary cereal. But he actually goes outside much more often. And it's when he's outside that the most exciting adventures take place. Kids can relate to this. They have imaginations just like Calvin's. They can go outside, pick up a stick, and become a stealth ninja master.

So here are the two keys to lowering the childhood obesity rate: diet and exercise. But remember, kids think in fun logic. So their diet has to be fun, as does their exercise. "Fun" itself is determined by what the media tells them. If Bugs Bunny ate cauliflower instead of carrots, we all would've been eating that weird white broccoli while yelling "duck season!"

Expose kids to Bugs Bunny cartoons. Let them decide for themselves whether or not they like the cartoon (they will), and then try serving carrots for lunch. You already know what will happen. They'll play with their food, talk like Bugs Bunny, and you'll laugh at them because you'll know that you tricked their feeble minds into eating something they really shouldn't want to eat.

Along with superhero comics, dinosaur picture books and Dr. Seuss, stick some Calvin and Hobbes collections on their bookshelf. Before you know it, they'll be running around outside with one of their favorite toys, pretending to play their own version of Calvinball.

And for God's sake, don't take away candy. Don't force them to turn off the TV. Maintain the fun, but give them options. Sometimes they will want to sit in front of the TV for hours, but other days they'll be outside for hours. Of course they want to drink pop, but if you find the right cartoon character drinking some orange juice, your sucker of a kid won't be able to resist that pulpy goop.

Keep it fun, adults. Just because it sucks to be a grown-up, that doesn't give you the right to ruin childhood for somebody. It's all about Bugs Bunny and Calvin. If you don't want a fat kid, just get those two cartoons in your house.

Now kids, it's up to you. If you want to have fun, you can do so by going outside. You can also have fun while still eating vegetables like a wise-ass rabbit. Of course if your parents are patronizing and saying things like, "eat your carrots, like Bugs Bunny! You like Bugs Bunny!" then feel free to spit them out. Have your own fun. Not your parents fun.

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