Monday, December 20, 2010


The root cause of over eating and consumption of unbalanced foods has been attributed to factors like lack of parental influence during childhood, exposure to toxic food environment, insufficient education at schools regarding the virtues of eating good foods and unlimited opportunities and access to low cost junk foods outside the home. It is believed that modern society has much to answer for this lopsided development vis-à-vis child health during the early growth face. In the past, several decades ago, when average family size used to be much larger than what it is to day, influence of wise old people like grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles etc was there to guide the minds and attitudes of children to develop sound eating practices. After the transformation of the society from undivided large families to nuclear families because of rapid industrialization, the parents do not seem to have sufficient time to spend on children, leaving them to be influenced more by external factors and environment.

There is a progressive decline in family values with each passing generation and the dilution of parental influence on child development is evident in all spheres of children's progress to adulthood. With inflation causing great hardship to families trying to lead a reasonably good quality of life, there is compulsion for the house wife to go for work to augment family income. Added to this the gender equality movement has pitchforked many intelligent and professionally motivated women, "good" mothers otherwise, into high profile jobs requiring deep commitment with very little time left for devoting to their children. It is justifiably said that in a family environment "love" is transferred through foods prepared and served by the mother and if she has no time for cooking or serving food at the dining table, what type of influence she can have on the child?. Eating is not just a physically routine task but involves an emotional bonding between mother and the child and if such opportunities are not available the child is likely to develop all wrong habits as far as food is concerned. Each mother has to ask herself as to how many times her family had sat together on a dining table for partaking a common meal cooked by her that is healthy as well as delicious (except of course sitting at a restaurant table)..

Look at a country like the US where the modern living style does not permit the family to enjoy home made foods and more often than not, food is eaten outside the home in public places like restaurants and other eateries where foods served are considered most unhealthy measured by any yardstick. No wonder that country has become the obesity "capital" of the world with children as well as adults assuming monstrous body size and grotesque shapes. Added to this the processed food industry consistently floods the market with foods with high calories, fat, sugar and salt, almost devoid of desirable nutrients like proteins, fibers and others. Under such circumstances who are to be blamed for this health havoc? It does not require any survey to prove the point that to day's parents have practically no influence on the evolving food habits of their children, though an elaborate study in the US about the degree of association between children and their parents dietary intake based on world wide data from 1980 to 2009 has also confirmed the above surmise.

According to some observers such a situation must have developed because of many complex interplaying factors like family structure and practices, the environment in schools, school lunch programs, local food environment to which child is exposed to, peer influence, government policies and massive industry promotional programs. The million dollar question is how to inculcate scientifically correct eating habits amongst the kids and who should be doing it? Of course parents cannot shirk their responsibility as a major stake holder in evolving their children into good citizens with sound health and mind. For this to happen, there has to be a parental reformation that will ensure that parents themselves are convinced about foods which are good or bad and then transfer this experience to their children in a systematic and regular manner. One of the common tendencies that is becoming widespread amongst nuclear families, with single child or two children, is to cater to the whims and fancies of the child with regard to packed foods that are available in vending machines and super market shelves and enjoy the temporary emotional satisfaction of seeing the child happy! How many parents would resist such a temptation and instead counsel the child regarding the harm such junk foods can cause to its health? Very few, of course.

Government policies must be tuned to help the working mothers to spend more time with their children, especially during early stages through appropriate policy measures. Of course the maternity leave, commonly available to the extent of 3 months has served the purpose of helping the mothers to nurse their new born and give undivided attention during this period. No matter how good and widespread can the creches and child care centers be, they will never be a substitute to the care of the mother. While government employees in India are being provided with 3 years of leave for bringing up the children as a welfare measure, same facility must be extended to private sector female employees also. If full pay cannot be protected, at least leave with half pay should be offered to prospective mothers or facilities for working from home, if feasible should be considered. Unless such progressive measures are implemented, the future children will continue to be affected by the "wrong food intake" syndrome, with snow balling effect not only their health but also that of the planet itself.


No comments: