The way things are in Washington, you would think that Americans never agree about anything. But if there is one moment and time that proves this to be wrong every year, it happens on December 31, right before the ball drops at Time Square.
Every year, 40% to 45% of adults make a New Year's Resolution. By no surprise, one of the most popular resolution of them all is to "lose weight" or "get fit." For gym rats, this mean that they will experience a sudden rush of people looking to take advantage of beginning-of-the-year gym membership promotions only to see the gym population go back to normal by February, when 60% of the new memberships go unused.
But I have a hunch that 2013 will be different for the American waistline, and for good reason. A report that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Christmas Day summarizes earlier data from this month that suggests that 2012 is the first year that there was a decline in childhood obesity rates in the past decade. Although the decrease may have been minuscule, it is emblematic of a turn in the tides for a number of reasons, but chiefly because the drop in child obesity rates was primarily amongst low-income at-risk youth who rely on federal nutrition assistance programs. If our country is able to improve the health and well-being of the most at-risk populations, those who have less access, options and knowledge of affordable healthy foods, then we maybe on our way to the waistline of the '70s. The front-line of the battle of the bulge may very well rest in the hands of our youth. Not only are they the parents of the future, but they can also be agents of change to the family grocery list.
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) usage and obesity rates. There is also data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that shows that children in SNAP households intake far below the federal guidelines for vegetable, fruit, fish and whole grain consumption while they often exceeded their daily intake of saturated fats, high fat dairy and sugar sweetened beverages. Thus, the obesity in poverty paradox makes more sense than it does on the surface. With over 46 million Americans relying on SNAP, including 16 million children, this is a significant amount of the nation's population whose diet is supplemented, supported and presumably guided by the federal government. The dividends of improved nutrition education and outreach by the Department of Agriculture, as well as new policies on issues such as the classification of certain food that we feed our youth in lunchrooms, can be huge.
Most youth base their diets off of what their peers and parents deem as the regular. Both of these major social influences create the constructs that dictate everything from dieting to education. But inversely, children also have the power to influence their parents and peers' dieting. Imagine how much of an impact a child can make on his or her household's grocery purchases by telling their mom that they taught them how to cook steamed spinach in school and that (s)he wants to make some for the house. The mother would be proud and more apt to make alterations to her shopping habits than if the child said (s)he learned how to make devil's pie. I know that home-ed never existed in most of us millennials' lifetime, but all fingers seem to point at how beneficial it would be if it were reinstated in public schools. At the very least, the USDA can fill that void with a stronger presence of MyPlate related lessons, nutrition education gyms and cafeterias, and local nutritionist offering Cooking Matters' guided classes.
The typical advice for keeping a New Year's resolution, as it was partially covered in an earlier PolicyMic story, is to make it specific, realistic, measurable, rewarding, and known to others. All of these are important first steps to changing your diet at any point of the year. But consider who is the person that you "take the pledge" with. I know that there aren't any "kids" on PolicyMic, but I think the solution to the obesity epidemic is in the hands of our youth. If children joined the 45% of adults who make resolutions in the pledge to get healthy, then they may be able to push them more than Jillian from "the Biggest Loser." No one wants little Timmy yelling at them for eat a candy bar and no one wants to tell him that he can't make spinach for the house because we rather eat peach cobbler.