We’ve done our best to limit calorie-laden temptations in our homes and at school. We’ve turned breakfast and dinners into nutritious smorgasbords of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. We have banned or restricted soft drinks, sugary sweets and needless junk food from the cafeterias, offering instead healthier options that much more closely resemble balanced meals. We have ensured that during the hours in which we have our teens under our wings, we know what they are eating, and that it is good for them. But what do we do when our adolescents are not where we can see them, when they are not in school or at home, when they are in transit?
It seems like a somewhat melodramatic question. We can hardly expect to know exactly what every single teen eats on any given day unless we assign one adult to each and begin individual monitoring. Isn’t it enough that we are making their meals as healthy as possible? Do we really have to obsess about the remaining hours?
The answer for some is yes. They’ve begun determining just how many opportunities for diet disaster lie between school and home, and what they’ve found is disheartening. More than 1/3 of middle and high schools are within half a mile of a fast-food or convenience store. The students have easy access to unlimited French fries, soft drinks, candy, pastries and fat-filled, energy-dense products. The appalled are suggesting changes to zoning and building policies as well as locking down schools at lunch so that students don’t have a midday opportunity for ill health. But I think that rather than focusing on this latest food outrage, this schoolyard Burger King bonanza, we should turn our attention to a different aspect of teenage health: activity.
It’s not just food that weighs down adolescents. Inactivity adds on the pounds, too, and makes the possibility of becoming an overweight adult all the more likely. Logically, exercise or movement of any type should do the reverse, and it does. Skateboarding, rollerblading or biking more than four times a week lowers an adolescent’s risk of becoming an overweight adult by 48 percent. School-based sports and physical education do the same to varying degrees. So rather than focusing solely on discouraging unhealthy habits (7-Eleven afternoon stops), why don’t we focus on encouraging healthy ones, like moving? Let’s get them active, burning some of the contraband calories that they consumed when we weren’t looking. And maybe they’ll be so busy exercising they won’t notice the six McDonald’s surrounding their school.