Best way to prevent obesity? More home ec and less shop class

My friend Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is an obesity researcher in Ottawa and he’s got a great blog called Weighty Matters. A recent post looks at how dietary elitism can scare people off of healthy eating. I’m going to pull something directly from Dr. Freedhoff’s post to reveal what he means.

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blonde kid, boy making salad, cooking, pepper mill

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My friend Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is an obesity researcher in Ottawa and he’s got a great blog called Weighty Matters. A recent post looks at how dietary elitism can scare people off of healthy eating.

I’m going to pull something directly from Dr. Freedhoff’s post to reveal what he means:

Take for example last week’s New York Times. In it readers are presented with Martha Rose Shulman’s ideas for, “a week’s worth of light and simple ideas for dishes that travel well…..lunches they can take to work and eat at a desk”. Her ideas? The ingredients she includes are: beet greens, Swiss chard, chickpeas, Lundberg Black Japonica Rice, edamame, soaked red lentils, dark sesame oil, walnut oil, pinenuts, lightly toasted cumin seeds, Aleppo pepper, fennel, nigella seeds, and peeled kohlrabi.

Really? Those are “simple”? If that’s “simple” for healthy eating, I’d hate to see fancy. And I bet I’m not alone.

I work. I also cook. I don’t have time to prepare, let alone comprehend what’s going on up there.

At the end of the post Dr. Freedhoff says, “who’s going to help get our nation re-learning how to cook actually simple, healthy meals?” And this is followed by “I’ve got nothing.”

I’m pretty sure Yoni fibbed on that last part. I know he’s got a lot more than nothing. In fact, what I’m about to suggest I’m pretty sure I stole from him. I was just reminded about it last night while going to an “art walk” at my kids school. It got me thinking about the counterpart to shop class: home economics.

“Do they do home ec too?” I asked my daughter. “Yes, but it’s an option” she replied. Then I learned that mostly what they learn is baking cookies and brownies.

Houston, we have a problem. And a solution.

First, let’s rag on shop class. What are the odds that someone is actually going to grow up to use any of those skills? If kids want to learn how to build stuff, they’re going to find a way to learn it – and there are so many colleges that offer courses in machining, repairing, building etc. If they want to make a career out of that, the opportunities are plentiful. Also, we’re not talking about a major portion of the population who is ever going to use those skills in adulthood. There is wiggle room to put less emphasis on shop and a lot more on home economics.

And the reason is clear: the entire country can benefit from being better cooks – not just preparers of cookies and brownies. It’s not just about learning to cook; children need to understand food and learn what’s healthy eating.

Here is my call to the Canadian government: If you want to help prevent the next generation of obesity, you must initial a science-based national school program for food education. It must be mandatory and teach kids things like balanced eating, calories, metabolism, reading labels, grocery shopping, food additives and preservatives, avoiding highly palatable food, meal planning and preparation etc. Basically, teach them what they need to know to become healthy eating adults.

Some will say, “Oh, but that’s the parent’s job.” News flash: The parents aren’t doing it. Hell, most of the parents don’t even know the information themselves. This program could have a trickle up effect and help the parents too.

There is so much dietary misinformation out there that kids grow to adulthood poorly armoured against diet scams and fads, and they rely far too much on eating out and buying heavily processed and high-calorie foods. If we ingrain in them an appreciation and understanding for making their own meals at a young age, the bathroom scales will start tipping back the other way.

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