Last week the University of Idaho’s Women’s Center sponsored Gloria Steinem to speak at the Women’s Leadership Conference. Over the last 40 years, Ms. Steinem has played a pivotal role in the women’s equality movement and is the co-founder of Ms. Magazine. In 1995 she was listed as one of the 25 most influential women in America. My dream of meeting this woman was far surpassed when my colleagues and I actually got the chance to chat with her about her take on the decreased health status of our children and families in the United States, specifically obesity rates.
What were her jewels of wisdom? She brashly asserted that Family and Consumer Sciences was the most important school on campus because of the significance it plays in the threads of family. What goes on in the family is the most important factor in raisin healthy children; healthy children are the fabric of the future. In her studies of other cultures Ms. Steinem believes that the home is where it begins – food, love, communication, etc. This is where modeling healthy behaviors also starts. In cultures where men and women are both involved in raising the Children (partnership cultures) children flourish. Equality equals harmony and health.
If we transfer this philosophy to the obesity issue, then teaching children to lead a healthy, active lifestyle begins in the home. While we can teach health and nutrition in school, it is most powerful to teach and practice good nutrition and physical activity in the home – by both parents, When I naively suggested that more women in the work force means more reliance on fast, processed, less healthy foods, Ms. Steinem quickly reminded me that women making healthy dinners for their family was only half of the equation. Men were equally responsible. When I ignorantly suggested that men “can’t cook,” she again reminded me that in the ‘50s men “couldn’t type.” But with the computer revolution of the ‘80s they quickly learned how to. Anyone can learn anything if the motivation is there.
So what is the take home message here? We gift each other with the power to choose and make choices. We as a culture need to choose to turn around the obesity epidemic by having a unified force. That unified force starts in the home with parents teaching, modeling and practicing healthy eating for their children. Filling your plate with ½ fruits and vegetables, a forth starches/grains and a forth protein/meat, with dairy as a chaser is a great beginning. When children ask for snacks offer fruits and vegetables. I remember when I was young and my family would sit around watching TV, my dad would bring our apples. He would meticulously peal the apple in circles with a paring knife and give each of his four children a “peel.” Then he would slice it and give us each a sixth. Then he would start all over again on the next apple. I am not particularly fond of apples, but I loved this ritual and any food experience that involved my dad. The moral of the story is getting right back to the wisdom of Gloria Steinem – the family dynamic is the backbone of the health and nutritional status of our children…and the future.