Change your Community, Change Yourself
How restaurants, schools and parents can fight obesity.
It's time to stop killing ourselves. For the first time in the history of America, children can expect to live shorter lives than their parents. We're building sick communities that encourage unhealthy living.
The solution isn't about making everyone join a gym or start a diet. Long-term those actions only help the dedicated 5-10% who keep it up. What's needed are changes to our environment that make the healthy choices easier. If you own a restaurant, work in a school or are the parent of a school-aged child, here are some things you can do.
For restaurant owners, there's one description on a menu that will practically GUARANTEE it won't be ordered. That's putting the word "healthy" in front of a description. Nobody wants to order something healthy when they go out to eat. Restaurants are in the business of selling food. Sales drop off significantly when a food is called healthy, because that often means it'll taste like grass and tree bark.
What restaurants need to do is get a little more creative. Using words like "fresh" or "crispy" encourage people to make better decisions. But just changing the descriptions isn't enough. The calories in each meal need to be cut down without sacrificing taste.
One of the recipes I posted on my website a few years ago was inspired by a dish at a Seattle restaurant. They prepped the salmon and vegetables early in the day and when someone ordered, they assembled all the ingredients quickly into a skillet that they covered and baked for 20 minutes.
The result was an amazing combination of salmon with honey, fresh strawberries, crisp green peppers, savory onion and an orange all baked together. The food fills an entire plate and every bite provides a wonderful explosion of tastes. But the really cool part is the entire meal is only 375 calories!
Healthy food, that makes a beautiful presentation, tastes amazing and sells out nightly. If you own a restaurant you can do it, but only if you care about your customers.
We're often asked why we keep hammering on restaurant owners to make healthier options available. The reason is simple. According to the Rand Corporation, 97% of chain restaurant entrees exceed the USDA nutritional guidelines for fat, saturated fat and sodium.
Schools have been hotbeds of health reform the last few years. As the rates of childhood obesity soar, everyone is sure they know the reasons why. Some blame the proliferation of soda machines, some point to the takeover of cafeterias by fast-food companies and others believe it's because of the decline of mandatory gym class. Each one is an important consideration, but if you want real change, do this:
In schools, we must pass a rule that prohibits children from eating in classrooms or hallways. That single policy has been shown to be more effective than any other, including changing the food that's served in the cafeteria. A policy of no food in hallways or in the classroom has been shown to lower the average body mass index of students by an astonishing 11%.
You don't need to fight with soda companies over contracts, cafeterias over budgets or hire a bunch of new gym teachers. Just implement a simple rule and make it effective immediately.
If you're a parent, there's one more thing you can do.
In 1970 about 50% of children walked to school. By the year 2010 that number had dropped to about 10%. Driving a child to school may seem like you're doing them a favor, but in fact you're taking away yet another healthy thing they could be doing.
Some parents will say it's because they're afraid of sending their children out alone. If that's the case with you, then get off your butt and walk them to school yourself. Chances are you need the exercise as well.
If your job doesn't allow you to walk them, organize a "walking pool" with neighbors. It's just like a car pool, but instead of driving by and picking everybody up, a responsible adult walks by and goes with kids to school.
Each of these ideas require that somebody do something. Restaurant owners, school administrators and parents all need to step up. Will you do what's needed?
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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.