I saw a little boy wearing this t-shirt at the airport recently. I know this shirt is supposed to be funny. I get the joke. But on this young boy, who was also very overweight, it seemed almost cruel. And I couldn’t help but wonder: Who bought this shirt for the boy–and what kind of message did it teach him when they bought it? It made me sad.
It also made me angry.
I’m so tired of healthy food being a punchline. And I’m tired of our kids being taught–in obvious and subtle ways–that eating healthy food isn’t cool.
I’m tired of reading children’s books to my kids and finding the inevitable reference to a character who hates broccoli and the uptight mom who feeds it to him. My kids didn’t know they were supposed to hate broccoli.
I’m tired of food marketing that’s bent on convincing kids that they’re only cool if they’ve got a soda in one hand and a Lunchable in the other. And that their friends will think they’re lame if they bring vegetables to a party instead of a box of tacos.
I’m tired of even healthy foods marketed as “tasting as good as junk food!”, as in Oikos yogurt’s new tagline “Too delicious to be nutritious.” Because why would anyone possibly like the taste of nutritious foods?
These messages, jabs, and digs are so pervasive in our culture, a culture in which the top three sources of calories in a child’s diet are desserts, soda, and pizza and where only 1 in 5 kids eats the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
Yet we also have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. More than a third of our population is obese. Half of Americans will have diabetes or prediabetes by the year 2020. And children are now getting medication for grown-up conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Guess the joke’s actually on us.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She writes frequently about health and nutrition for consumer magazines such as Parents, Fitness, and Family Circle.