On childhood obesity, acting and not acting are both choices

In two prior posts, I’ve agreed with influential blogger Morgan Downey that the proposal in Puerto Rico to fine the parents of obese children is a bad idea, and that the food environment has a great deal to do with the globesity crisis.

But I balked at the implication that parents don’t have primary responsibility for obese children. I wouldn’t have said so before 5 or 10 years ago — because I didn’t get it — but now it’s clear: incorporating fitness and nutrition into children’s worldview is a basic ingredient of child protection.

If fines aren’t the right tack, though, what can be done collectively? I usually fail, but I’ll try to be brief. Clearly, the basic choices are to act or not to act.

Parents must protect against the food environment

In a recent post, I reacted to writer Morgan Downey’s mockery of a ham-handed suggestion in Puerto Rico to fine parents whose children are obese.  I think the suggestion is not helpful, but I objected to Downey’s giving not even a nod to the fact that parents do have a huge role in how kids learn to eat.

Downey focused his prescription on the food environment, and though we agree on its potency, I would put the onus on parents here, too, in part because in this world, a crucial role for parents is to educate their kids about media excesses — which is to say, “media.”

Fines for child obesity are a bad idea, but...

"Puerto Rico doesn’t have the answer" is the headline of Morgan Downey’s recent post about an island proposal to fine parents whose children are obese. Worst idea ever, he says.

Right up front: I don’t want to fine parents of obese kids either. Bad idea, in every way. But the post has enough meat to chew on that it’s worth checking in anyway. Here’s Downey’s comment upon disclosing the idea:

"Oh, that will help! 'Parents: Starve your children and you save a few bucks!' Wow, what a deal! That will overcome the cries of hungry children.”

I’ll dispense with the dumb crap before getting to the worthwhile issue: Starvation? Cries of hungry children? Is there no middle ground between starvation and obesity? One doesn’t starve children into good health, any more than one does to overfeed, or poorly feed, or exercise no control over food choices.

What's a penalty, and what's an incentive?

A vital issue brought up by the Affordable Care Act is whether employers can penalize employees who decline to take part in wellness offerings. Some consider it a civil rights issue if companies penalize employees who won’t act that way their employer wants them to.

I see that some could see it as an issue, but I hesitate to agree.

The slave drivers who counsel health and happiness

These scoundrels of corporate wellness, with their “relentless focus on health and happiness.” How dare they!

The phrase comes from a RealBusiness blog post by Jason Hesse, not from “The Wellness Syndrome,” (link withheld for cause) the book that triggered his comments, so it is conceivable that I’m being unfair to the book. But I read the review of it from the Guardian this morning too, and I’m feeling safe enough to proceed.

The authors, Andre Spicer and Carl Cederström, are Europeans business professors of clear political bent (which, I concede, is something usually said by someone with a different political bent). The “syndrome” of the title is a “creeping cult of corporate wellness,” under which emphasis on health and wellness is alleged to make people feel less healthy and less well.

”’The pressure to maximize our wellness can make us feel worse. We have started to think that a person who is healthy and happy is a morally good person while people who are unhealthy and unhappy are moral failures,’ explains Spicer,” quoted by Hesse.

Restore life to "sustainability"

When I recently interviewed Carol Sanford, author of “The Responsible Business” and “The Responsible Entrepreneur,” I was a little taken aback when she stated flatly that “I want the word ’sustainability’ to go away.”

Her contention is that “it limits what people think they can take on,” which I’m not sure I agree with.

I do have sympathy with those who deride it as a buzzword, but I’m heading the opposite way. Instead of hoping the word will go away, I’m trying to restore its full meaning, before it became a stand-in for green technology or corporate PR obligation.

"The people part is undervalued, at least in the sustainability movement."

Welcome to another episode of “10 Words or Less,” in which I ask brief questions of interesting people and ask brief answers in return. Today’s guest has been a well-respected voice on business, sustainability, and innovation for more than 25 years, whom the Associated Press has called ‘The guru of green business practices.” He’s done a lot to get there, but a notable achievement is he is the founder of Greenbiz.com. Remember, “10 Words” is an ethic, not a limit, so to those of you at home, please, no counting. If you think it’s so easy, let’s see you do it.

Joel Makower, cofounder of GreenBiz.com

Name Joel Makower
Born when, where  Oakland, Calif., Feb. 19, 1952
Resides now  Oakland
Family circumstance "Married to Randy Rosenberg for 26-plus years, and we have two lovely dogs."
Formative event 
“Growing up in the Vietnam War."
A strong influence outside your family 
"I was coming of age professionally in journalism school during the time of Watergate, so Woodward, Bernstein, all of the others were of influence to me in terms of journalism as a way to speak truth to power. I was also, at the same time, influenced by Ralph Nader. The consumer advocate, not the election-spoiler, who was about taking on corporations on behalf of consumers."
A historical figure you hold dear 
"I admired Martin Luther King well before he was assassinated and became the hero-martyr that he became. At 13, I made him the subject of my bar mitzvah speech, in 1965, so I guess that says something."
What came first for you, green or biz? 
"Probably biz. I started off my career as a consumer reporter, and I quickly realized that in order to understand consumer issues you had to understand business."


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