Blog | Thursday, June 28, 2012

Unjunking ourselves!

The lead story in today's New York Times is that Mayor Bloomberg wants to restrict the size of soft drinks sold in New York City to a maximum of 16 oz. Another way to go might be to restrict them to a minimum of two gallons so you have to be fit enough to carry one if you want to drink it.

Anyway, we'll come back to the mayor's efforts to help us unjunk.

For the moment, let's think about good reasons for unjunking ourselves.

Think about a child or former child you love. This should be pretty easy for any parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or just about anybody else who has known a kid or ever been one.

Now, think about that child's growth from year to year and ask yourself: What were they growing out of?

What was the construction material? Matter can't be constructed out of nothing. It comes from somewhere. If a child's head is four inches higher off the floor this year than last year, then that four-inch platform of extra kid was built out of something. What?

Food, and nothing else.

Food is the construction material--the only construction material--for the growing bodies of children we love.

We are, no doubt, all familiar with the expression "you are what you eat," but given how most of us eat, it's quite clear we don't take it very seriously. And for some pretty good reasons. The human machine, and human fuel tank, are stunningly forgiving. We can throw almost anything in the tank, and run reasonably well for decades. We can't build a machine fractionally so accommodating.

And, of course, we don't look like what we eat. We eat donuts, and don't sport big holes through our middles. We eat French fries, and don't sprout French fry antennae.

But you can't judge what we are made of by what we look like, any more than you can judge a book by its cover or a house by its paint.

Our houses are, often, made mostly of wood, but look nothing like trees. Trees are cut down and, if you will, "digested" in a timber mill to produce wood that is turned into lumber. The lumber is then used to build houses that look nothing like the trees.

But if that lumber is rotten, the house in question may look all right at first, but it will fare quite badly when the first big storm comes along. The quality of a house is rooted in the quality of its construction materials.

Ditto for us. The growing body of a child is built out of food. Nutrients are extracted from food, just as wood is extracted from trees. Rotten wood makes rotten houses. Rotten food makes sick kids. Maybe not right away, but eventually, rotten construction material catches up with us all.

Bodies built out of junk make kids prone to epidemic obesity, to "adult-onset" diabetes. And to much worse.

The kids may look, and even feel, fine for a while. But every cell their bodies build depends on the quality of the available construction material it is offered. Every muscle fiber, every enzyme, every brain cell, every heart cell, every hormone.

No one I know throws any old junk into the tank of a car they hope will run well for the foreseeable future. No one I know willingly builds a home out of junk, or of rotten wood.

Yet as a culture, we act as if "junk food" is an acceptable category. As if it's cute, fun, innocuous and acceptable. As if it's all just a good joke.

But food is the one and only building material for the growing body of a child you love. How's "junk" sounding now?

And, by the way, every one of us adults is turning over literally hundreds of millions of cells daily. These need to be replaced, along with spent enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and the like. Where do we get the construction material for this job? Right you are.

My colleagues and I at Turn the Tide think it is past time to unjunk ourselves! Kids and adults alike, but kids in particular.

To some extent, this involves a nation of loving and responsible adults recognizing that "junk" is not a food group. There was no edible junk in the Stone Age, there was just food. There was no edible junk in Mesopotamia at the dawn of agriculture, there was just food! And let's face it, there was no mention of junk in the Garden of Eden, either! We created junk, and the health consequences that come from it.

Time to get rid of it. To that end, we are launching our newest program, the latest sandbag for the anti-obesity, anti-chronic-disease levee: Unjunk Yourself!

The program, which will become a whole library of music videos (with help and support from folks like you!), is aimed at tweens and teens. Like the TRUTH campaign that helped get kids outraged about tobacco, Unjunk Yourself is designed to stir up a bit of righteous indignation. (We have another music video, "The Process," in the works: "We've been processing food, and now we're processing you ...") It will deliver fun, provocative, engaging, health-promoting information in music video format and then provide links to online tools, resources, and programs kids (and their families) can put directly to use. Knowledge, combined with the tools and skills that allow you to USE it, really is power!

And that's what we want to do, empower kids and their families to take health into their own hands.

Mayor Bloomberg's plan to ban large sodas in New York City is already controversial. Some support, and some oppose, the mayor's approach to helping unjunk us. Personally, I think it can be justified, but I much prefer the carrot to the stick. And I prefer for us all to take health into our own hands whenever possible.

Whichever side of the line you are on, perhaps you'll agree that we can and should unjunk ourselves, and our kids in particular. This is not about being food police, health dictators, or nutrition nannies. This is about the fact that to the extent that it is humanly possible, vitality should be the birthright of every child.

This is not about what we take away from kids. It's about we can give them: a better future. Healthy people have more fun. Health is a key ingredient in creating the best and longest life possible. Unjunking ourselves can help us get there. It's among the most valuable, enduring gifts any adult can give a child.

Please watch the video, and help us spread the word. Show it to a kid. And, if possible, please help us grow the music video library.

Today would be a great day to start unjunking a kid you love. And, while you're at it, perhaps you'll want to Unjunk Yourself!

David L. Katz, MD, FACP, MPH, FACPM, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health, and Associate Professor (adjunct) in Public Health Practice at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is the Director and founder (1998) of Yale University's Prevention Research Center; Director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital (2000) in Derby, Conn.; founder and president of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation; and formerly the Director of Medical Studies in Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine for eight years. This post originally appeared on his blog at The Huffington Post.