Challenging Childhood Obesity

Challenging Childhood Obesity

Fast food ads work because they're lively, colorful, and fun -- and they show kids as active participants in often zany activities.

Yes, you too can eat Trix and bounce like a bunny. Skateboarding, singing, and slam-dunkability are all enhanced by consuming burgers, shakes, and sugary treats. This story may have no basis in fact, but for many kids it's the only story they get. The result, of course, is skyrocketing obesity rates and a spate of diet-related health problems, particularly in underserved communities.

I am currently at work on DooF, a timely new PBS-bound series for children 6 to 9 that challenges the rising epidemic in childhood obesity by changing the way children think about food (DooF is literally food backwards). We believe we can counter nutrition problems by providing kids with fun, new alternatives to unhealthy food and the television culture that goes with it. We intend to get kids more excited about healthy food than about a cheeseburger.

Where do we look for inspiration? Believe it or not -- fast food ads.

DooF offers kids a compelling story -- one that traces food back to its origins -- mixing in all the zaniness of the commercials. Each episode begins in the kitchen, but it could be a talking bee or a mechanical composting dog that leads the DooF Gang on a journey to a farmer's market, an urban beehive, or a dairy run by cowgirls. Here the kids gather ingredients for their own special recipe. As with the fast food ads, the kids are in charge, only this time the product is good for them.

parents, you too can learn something from fast food. Turn your kids into active participants and get them excited about good, healthy food as they help to choose, cook, and learn about where it all comes from. Why not involve them in the process of planning, purchasing, and transforming ingredients into good things to eat every day?

When the opportunity allows, share with your kids the wonder of picking an apple from the tree, digging in the ground for carrots, fishing in a stream, and the special joy of tasting a dish you loved when you were growing up.

Here are some ideas you can use in your house:

Tell stories! Your own stories are great. Whether it's the first time you cooked for your spouse, or what your grandmother made in the old country, your children are inspired and entertained by stories from their family heritage.

Share information! The facts about food, which we share on DooF, are endlessly fascinating. Did you know that farmers hire bees to play a crucial role in the pollination of almond trees? Did you know there are at least 12,000 kinds of apples, and corn is actually a grass?

Visit a farm! Or market or restaurant kitchen. The people who grow, cook, and sell food for a living are passionate about what they do. Most will be happy to talk to your <. kids and invite you to tour the place where they work to produce the food we enjoy.

Don't be afraid to get messy! children derive tremendous freedom and a sense of accomplishment from doing things themselves. Adult supervision is essential, but cooking is a safe and inexpensive way for them to learn all kinds of skills, from math to science to history. Yes, it's a trial and error process, but so is all good science. 

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Written by: Mike Axinn See other articles by Mike Axinn
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