I heard a news report recently that cited several reasons for the staggering increase in childhood obesity: biological factors, unregulated marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, a decline in physical activity, and inadequate access to healthier food options.
With regards to nutrition, I think conventional approaches to influencing changes are simply not working. Both government and private health groups constantly disseminate information in attempts to encourage better dietary choices, and yet the number of kids being categorized as overweight or obese continues to rise.
Not wanting to get into a debate on what might or might not make a difference (there’s enough of that going on right now with the sugar-tax proposal), I’m going to share instead a “happy story,” one that tells of the surprising transformation that took place when a friend took small but progressive steps to change her 10 year old son’s eating habits.
Jet is twelve years old; at the age of just ten he ran and finished a half marathon. Two weeks later he also completed a very challenging 10k mud run. While it’s not uncommon to see young kids of Jet’s age participating in running events, it is unusual to see them completing the more difficult adult distances and courses.
Two years prior, health reasons prompted Jet’s mother to change his diet. Haruna, Jet’s mother, says, “Jet always loved to eat lots of meat, and very few veggies. He loved to eat chocolate or anything sweet; he’d eat just sugar if he could!”
To start with, Haruna stopped buying processed snacks. She used to keep an ample supply in the house but knew that that had to stop. Her greatest challenge was saying no to Jet and his sister when they accompanied her to the supermarket, but by compromising and allowing them to each choose just one “treat,” she was met with far less resistance.
The next step Haruna took was to cut back on Jet’s meat servings, another huge challenge since he was used to eating meat-heavy meals every day of the week. The change was initially too drastic, so reducing Jet’s portions (and eventually meals), had to be a gradual process that involved simultaneously introducing a greater variety of salad vegetables and dressings.
Haruna says it was around eight months later that she began to observe some very noticeable differences in Jet’s body; he looked leaner and more muscularly toned. But in addition to the changes in appearance, he seemed to have much more energy and soon expressed a desire to start joining his mother on some of her weekly runs.
Not long after he took up running with his mother, Jet decided he wanted to train for his first half marathon. Haruna believes that Jet’s change in diet made it possible for him to achieve that goal; the change in body composition (loss of fat and increase in lean muscle), undoubtedly gave him the physical strength he needed, but Haruna says the real surprise came with the changes she observed in Jet’s mental clarity and behavior.
According to Haruna, Jet somehow seemed calmer, more positive, and better able to focus and concentrate. Most athletes will agree that these qualities are invaluable in the realm of endurance sports, especially if the end goal is to “successfully” complete an event (and imagine how these qualities would improve a young person’s life, in general).
For Jet, success would have been defined by simply finishing, and had Jet remained on the diet he had enjoyed for so long, it’s highly likely that running and finishing a half marathon at age 10 would never have happened.
The take-away from sharing Haruna and Jet’s story:
- Most parents are exposed to enough nutritional data to know what they probably should – or should not – feed their kids, but even when it’s obvious that health and weight concerns are indicative of a poor diet, they continue to make decisions based on convenience and/or taste. It’s my hope that in sharing Jet’s story, and illustrating the immense and beneficial impact of a nutrition-rich diet, that some parents reading this might be inspired to take the kind of proactive steps that Jet’s mother did.