Oh, c’mon, the first lady’s right!
American children are too fat. They are! They have not always been fat, but they are now. Fat, fat, fat, and sluggish to boot.
They don’t run around enough. They eat great quantities of unspeakable food. Their bodies are bloated with the horrific amounts of corn sugars fed to them, and kept swollen by the lack of exercise that comes from an uninterested yet overprotective adult class that purchases for them sedentary entertainments and, in the name of safety, denies them the freedom to walk anywhere.
For 20 years, rising generations have wondered at the weirdness of the way modern American children live. Anyone older than 30 can easily remember what “the fat kid” in elementary school looked like because there was only ever one. Now, practically half the children in any given class could be that kid.
A Chicago pediatrician once told me that the obesity clinic where he worked generally didn’t accept patients older than 4 because it was already too late for them. If you’re obese at 4, he said, you’re probably fat for life. According to the Centers for Disease Control, child obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
This issue has been crying for attention — almost screaming, frankly, for a high-profile and admired person to take it up as a cause.
And yet, now that the high-profile person is Michelle Obama, suddenly right-wingers have their knickers in a twist. It’s the nanny state! It’s politicians in Washington, D.C., trying to dictate what we feed our children! It’s lefties trying to control our lives!
The hysteria is extraordinary, considering that this issue has worried many conservatives for years. It’s good that the editorial pages of both The Examiner and The Wall Street Journal have cautiously lauded Obama for her fledgling efforts — they should.
The fact is, since the 1980s, our country has been embarked on a strange experiment with its youth. We have been a kind of anti-Sparta, exposing our young not to the harshness of open hillsides, but to the glutinous comforts of trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup.
Anyone who has spent time amongst kids can see the incredible degree to which processed foods have saturated childhood.
Toddlers routinely drink from juice boxes rather than glasses of milk or water. At school snack time, children get Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, or Oreos, or blue-dyed strips of Fruit Roll-Ups.
Not to malign these treats entirely; anything in moderation is fine, including the pie Obama so enjoys. The problem is that society has evolved in a way that millions of children do not eat very much actual food. They eat a simulacrum of food.
It’s not their fault, either. It’s a manifestation of the capitulation of adults who know better but who can’t be bothered to make an effort.
“Oh, my kids just won’t eat salad,” grown-ups say, and so they order from the “kid’s menu” and their children eat french fries — with chicken nuggets.
Michelle Obama does not have to be a paragon of fitness or dietary asceticism to deserve the support of conservatives in her campaign to get American children to run around and eat more fruits and vegetables.
Come on, people. Her campaign ought to be no more controversial as a first lady’s project than promoting the avoidance of drugs and alcohol (Mrs. Reagan) or the promotion of literacy (Mrs. Bush).
It is said that politics should end at the water’s edge. Let it also end at the rim of a child’s dinner plate.
Examiner columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon is a former foreign correspondent and a regular contributor to the books pages of The Wall Street Journal.