Preventive Medicine Column
Dr. David L. Katz
Predictably, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of sodas people can buy in NY City is generating passionate responses, some for, many against.
Maybe the mayor had a good idea, but went the wrong way with it? After all, people tend to think bigger is better, and setting an upper limit on the size of soda gives people less. Perhaps the same public health goals could be accomplished by giving people who want more…more, by setting a lower size limit. I had about 25 gallons in mind. The program tag line would be: if you can carry it, you can drink it!
Better still, maybe we can take unjunking ourselves- and our kids- into our own hands. The case for doing so is very compelling.
Think about a child- or former child- you love. Now, think about that child’s growth from year to year and ask yourself: what were they growing OUT OF?
What was the construction material? Matter can’t be constructed out of nothing- it comes from somewhere. If a child’s head is 4 inches higher off the floor this year than last year, then that 4-inch-platform of extra kid was built out of… something. What?
Food is the construction material- the only construction material- for the growing bodies of children we love.
We’ve all heard “you are what you eat,” but given how most of us eat, it’s quite clear we don’t take it very seriously. And for some pretty good reasons. The human machine, and human fuel tank, are stunningly forgiving. We can throw almost anything in the tank, and run reasonably well for decades. We can’t build a machine fractionally so accommodating.
And, of course, we don’t look like what we eat. We eat donuts, and don’t sport a big hole through our middles. We eat French fries, and don’t sprout French fry antennae.
But you can’t judge what we are made of by what we look like, any more than you can judge a book by its cover- or a house by its paint.
Our houses are, often, made mostly of wood- but look nothing like trees. Trees are cut down and, if you will, ‘digested’ in a timber mill to produce wood that is turned into lumber. The lumber is then used to build houses that look nothing like the trees.
But if that lumber is rotten, the house in question may look all right at first- but will fare quite badly when the first big storm comes along. The quality of a house is rooted in the quality of its construction materials.
Ditto for us. The growing body of a child is built out of food. Nutrients are extracted from food, just as wood is extracted from trees. Rotten wood makes rotten houses. Rotten food makes…sick kids. Maybe not right away- but eventually, rotten construction material catches up with us all.
Bodies built out of junk make kids prone to epidemic obesity, to ‘adult onset’ diabetes. And to much worse.
The kids may look, and even feel, fine for a while. But every cell their body builds depends on the quality of the available construction material they are offered. Every muscle fiber, every brain cell, every heart cell.
No one I know throws any old junk into the tank of a car they hope will run well for the foreseeable future. No one I know willingly builds a home out of junk, or rotten wood.
Yet as a culture, we act as if ‘junk food’ is an acceptable category. As if it’s cute, fun, innocuous- and acceptable. But food is the one and only building material for the growing body of a child you love. How’s ‘junk’ sounding now?
And, by the way, every one of us adults is turning over literally hundreds of millions of cells daily. These need to be replaced, along with spent enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and the like. Where do WE get the construction material for this job? Right you are.
My colleagues and I at Turn the Tide think it is past time to…unjunk ourselves! Kids and adults alike- but kids in particular. So we have launched a new program by the name Unjunk Yourself that will deliver music videos to engage kids (and their parents), with links to on-line tools and programs to empower them. Our first offering is accessible here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLaS0En9Q98. We hope you enjoy it.
Today would be a great day to start unjunking a kid you love. And, while you’re at it, perhaps you’ll want to – Unjunk Yourself! No real need to wait for Mayor Bloomberg to drop by, is there?
Dr. David L. Katz; www.davidkatzmd.com