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Honey, We're Killing the Kids!
TV Show Review
By Gary F. Zeolla
The title of this article is the title of a TV show on TLC. It is a very interesting show. The premise of the show is parents are "killing" their kids by allowing them to live on junk food and to spend most of their day sitting in front of a TV, computer, or video game screen, while getting little or no exercise. The kids are also usually running amuck, being totally out of control and misbehaving.
What the shows does is to offer such a family an intensive three-week "make-over." The family is usually composed of one or both parents and two or three small children, usually ages 3-12. Background on the family is first gathered. This seems to be done by placing cameras in the home.
The cameras reveal what the lifestyle of the family is really like. They usually show the family gorging on junk food, living on take-out and fast food, with the kids spending most of their time in front of a screen, while the parents do all of the household chores. Come bedtime, there is always a big fight getting the kids to go to bed. And in many cases, the kids are still sleeping in their parent's bed!
Needless to say, the kids are usually overweight for their age, with the parents being overweight as well. The kids are also usually are not doing well in school, and are often loners, with few if any friends seen, and often with them being "picked on" for being overweight and so out-of-shape.
Now, I am not a parent, so I will not be able to comment too much on the raising of children. But even to a non-parent like myself, such a situation seems out-of-control. But the parents have allowed the situation to get so bad and seem to have little idea of how to correct it, or worse, they don't see anything wrong with the whole situation.
Of course, someone in the family must have realized there was a problem for TLC to have been contacted. It usually seems to have been one of the parents, though in some causes, obviously not both, as will be discussed shortly. But in a couple of the shows, it was actually one of the kids that contacted TLC as he or she was fed up with feeling so terrible and being teased about his or her weight.
Along with the visual evaluation of the family, more objection measurements are taken, like the children's weights, blood pressures, cholesterol levels, and similar health indicators. Not surprising, most of the time, the kids are clinical overweight if not obese and often have high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and even "adult-onset" (Type 2) diabetes.
You would think that just this information would be enough incentive for the parents to do something about their kids' diet and exercise habits. But either they didn't know about these problems before or the reality of how serious the situation is hasn't set in.
So what is done at this point is to take all of the above information and to feed it into a computer with age-progression software. Such software can take a photo of a young child, and based on his or her current characteristics and that of the parents, the photo can be age-progressed to show what the child might look like in future years. Such software is often used in cases of children who have been missing for years.
But here, the purpose is to dramatically show what the kids' lifestyle will do to them if they continue living as they are as they get older. It is here that Felicia Stoler enters the picture, a registered dietician, exercise physiologist, and mother of two.
Felicia takes the parents into an all-white room (why it's white is beyond me). They project pictures of the kids onto the wall. Then one-by-one they gradually age-progress the kids to what they will like at age 40. And let me tell you, the pictures are rather horrendous. They usually have the mother and sometimes even the father crying.
The kids at 40 are always overweight if not obese. Their skin is often blotchy, and they simply look unhealthy and a lot older than 40. Most often, they look like they'd be in their 50s. In one episode, the father asked if people really looked that bad at age 40 due to poor lifestyle. Felicia assured him that she had many clients in their 40s that looked just that bad.
This is probably a very important point that nutritionists and others who try to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles often miss (including yours truly). We often focus on telling people that unhealthy lifestyles will cause a person to die at a younger age. In fact, it is usually at this point that Felecia informs the parents that most likely their kids will die about 10-15 years younger than is average for their gender and race. She then dramatically tells the parents that by letting them live this lifestyle, "You are killing your kids!" (Hence the title of the show).
However, most people have a "you're going to die sometime anyway" attitude towards such warnings. But playing on people's vanity might be a better approach. People like to look younger than they really are. And some people in their 40s look more like they're in their 30s, but many other 40-somethings look more like they're 50-something. Yes, genetics play a role here, but a far more important factor is lifestyle.
Look around you at people you know who are in their late-30s or early-40s, and I am sure you'll see what I mean. Some look much younger than their real ages and some much older. Or check out a site like Hot or Not. Set the age range to 33-40 and start looking at some pics. You'll see some people who look like they're in this range, but many others look much older. Sometimes, it's hard to believe that someone is really in this range as they easily look like they're in their 50s.
And again, this is NOT just "luck of the draw"—how you eat, how much you exercises, along with other lifestyle habits make the difference.
The Eating Make-over
After scaring the parents in this fashion, it is now time for the make-over. Felicia usually gathers the family together into their kitchen and gives them a couple of "rules." They are printed on magnets and placed on the refrigerator. The first rule is always "healthy eating."
For this first rule, the family is instructed to get all of the junk food out of their home. All of the junk food from the fridge, freezer, cabinets, the kid's rooms, and anywhere else food is hiding is to be pitched. Then they are given a shopping list and sent to the grocery store to fill their now empty shelves with healthy alternatives.
I actually describe this procedure in my God-given Food Eating Plan book. I call it the "dramatic" approach to starting a God-given foods eating plan. The idea is, the only way to break the addiction to junk food is to get rid of all of it and to replace it with healthy food. This way, if you want to eat, you have no choice but to eat the healthy food. As long as junk food is still in the home it would be too easy to give up on trying to eat healthy and go back to your old eating habits.
This is especially the case with kids. And needless to say, on the show, this is where the battles in the family start. Every time, the kids spit out the "new" foods when they are first introduced to them. That's no surprise. The foods are unfamiliar and taste so different from junk foods.
But this is where it becomes obvious which parent originally called TLC. Usually, one is stricter about getting the kids to try the new foods while the other is not quite so supportive. In one case, the father was even shown sneaking out to a fast food joint to get some junk food.
But something surprising always happens over the course of the three weeks. Eventually the kids come around and begin to eat the healthy foods. Part of the reason for this is probably simple hunger. This is why it is important to get rid of all of the junk food. With no other alternatives available, the kids come to realize that either they eat the new foods or go to bed hungry.
Another reason is that after a while the new foods are not so new anymore. In fact, on TLC's Web site, it says it generally takes introducing a kid to a new food 6-10 times before they will eat it. So persistence will eventually pay off.
Another factor is something I often found hard to understand about the show but is explained on the forums on TLC's site. Often, the first meals that Felicia has the family prepare are foods that even I might have problems eating, like tofu and Brussels sprouts. There are much better tasting healthy foods available than that. But it seems the idea is that by introducing the worst tasting foods first, then when better tasting healthy foods are introduced later, like whole wheat spaghetti with turkey meatballs, they taste really good. So the kids will not only eat them but actually like them.
The Exercise Make-over
Going back to Felecia's "rules"—the second rule usually has to do with exercise. The rules usually have the family limiting "screen-time" to an hour a day, or sometimes even getting rid of the TV altogether. If there are TVs in the kid's bedrooms, they are always removed. And just the lack of TV, computers, and video games is a big start in getting the kids up off of the couch and being more active. But often, more organized activity is planned for the kids and even the parents.
In a recent show, for instance, the two boys were signed up for wrestling classes while the girl was signed up for ballet classes. Having wrestled in high school myself, it was no surprise that the boys initially got creamed in the wrestling classes. But it was also no surprise that as they got into better shape and began to learn some moves, they began doing rather well and really enjoying it. Meanwhile, the girl was very uncomfortable at first in the ballet class, but eventually she really took to it. As with healthy eating, given time, kids will take to regular exercise.
Another rule designed to get the kids moving, and one the parents always really appreciate, is requiring the kids to do "chores." They're no reason that kids older than 3 cannot help out around the house. Of course, initially the kids rebel, but again, with time, doing their chores becomes a daily habit.
Usually, the family is given two or three rules each week for each of the three weeks. Most are related to diet and exercise, but others address other problems in the family, like the previously mentioned bedtime problems. If the kids are not sleeping in their own beds, that is immediately addressed. Sometimes as an incentive for the kids to sleep in their own beds, TLC provides the children with new sheets, like Superman sheets or the like, and sometimes they're even given new beds.
Since the relationship between the parents is very important, one of the rules is usually for a "date-night" for the parents without the kids. TLC sends them to a fancy restaurant or maybe an activity to do together like pottery-making. But another rule is usually "family-time" with something physically active for the whole family to do together being provided, like-horseback riding.
Other rules might address other specific problems in the family.
At the end of the three weeks, Felicia again takes the parents into the "white room." They are again shown the previous age-projections of their kids. But now, they are shown new projections based on the kids continuing with the new eating, exercise, and other lifestyle habits. And it is here that one can dramatically see that what someone looks like at age 40 has far more to do with lifestyle than with genetics.
Now at age 40, the kids are slim, healthy-looking, and look like they're in their early 30s. When the "before" and "after" pictures are placed besides each other, it is a night and day difference. It's hard to believe that both sets of pictures are possible futures for the same children. But they are.
But of course, the "after" pictures are based on the assumption that the family will continue with the new lifestyle and not drift back into their old habits. But the show always ends by looking at the family four weeks later. They are always still following Felecia's "rules"—eating healthy and exercising, along with the other lifestyle changes. And there is a very good chance that the children will continue with the healthy habits as they grow older.
It is also often mentioned that the kids are doing much better in school, are much better behaved, and are more social, often making new friends. Proper eating and exercise habits can truly make a dramatic difference in a person's life and in a family as a whole.
If you are a parent with young children, what do you want for your children's futures? When they turn your age, do you want them to be overweight, unhealthy, and looking ten years older than they really are? Or do you want them to be slim, healthy, energetic, and looking younger than their age? The habits you instill in them now could very well make the difference.
Even if you are not a parent, this TV show still applies to you. If your are a teenager or in your 20s or early 30s, then the eating and exercise habits you are engaging in now will determine what your future holds. I know when you are young it is hard to think about such things, but trust me, 40 will come faster than you think. And your lifestyle now will determine how you'll look and feel when you're in your 40s.
And even those of us who have passed the 40 mark, our futures are still very strongly determined by our eating and exercise habits. In fact, even if you are perfect example of the "before" pictures of this show, you can still turn things around by changing your eating and exercise habits. You might not be able to reverse all pf the damage done by years of abuse, but you can make dramatic improvements.
Much of what is presented in this TV show parallels very well with what I present in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book. Chapter Twenty-three is titled "Starting and Following a God-given Foods Eating Plan." It is here that I present details on the "dramatic approach" to starting the eating plan. But I also present a "gradual approach" for those who think that would be a better way of changing your lifestyle.
But either way, the important point is, no matter what your life situation, it is possible to change your future and that of your children. And my book presents details on what a healthy eating plan entails and how to go about starting and following an exercise program. I also mention other important lifestyle habits, like proper sleeping habits that are mentioned in this TV show.
To close, if the reader has not seen TLC's Honey We're Killing the Kids!, I would strongly recommend checking it out, especially if you have young children. For more about this TV show, check out TLC's Web site. For details on the type of dietary and exercise habits promoted in the show, see my God-given Foods Eating Plan book.
Honey We're Killing the Kids!: TV Show Review. Copyright © 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this Web site August 26, 2007.
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