• Audrey Sanchez

Our Children Will Die Younger Than Us — Unless We Take Action Now.


How far would you go to prevent your child from dying 14 years prematurely?

Would you jump in front of a bullet? Lift a car? What about sign a petition or send an email? Would you speak up and demand change from the food industry and the institutions feeding our children?


That’s the question we need to be asking ourselves right now — because for the first time since the 19th century, an entire generation of children is expected to live shorter lives than their parents. Not only that, but it’s likely their quality of life will be significantly worse, too.

And it’s not because of bullets or cars, or yellow fever, or smallpox. It’s because of diet.


Diet-related diseases are at an all-time high, and the age at which our children develop these diseases is at an all-time low. The primary cause? Obesity. In the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in adults, tripled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents.


At the same time, the number of Americans who eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables falls below 10%. As our consumption of health-promoting foods has declined, our intake of disease-causing foods has skyrocketed.


A recent survey shows over half the standard American diet is made up of ultra-processed foods like chicken nuggets, sugary pastries, and grab-and-go fast food products. Even our salads have too much junk on them!


The reasons behind our changing — and now critically imbalanced — diets are complicated and reflective of our country’s changing culture in a myriad of ways. Admittedly, there’s no one magic bullet for solving this problem. But that shouldn’t dissuade us from trying. Quite the opposite, actually. We should be trying anything and everything within our power to address the fact our children are sick, getting sicker, and will likely die younger than they should.


While we certainly can’t deny the parental responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of our children, to ignore the other factors contributing to the current state of public health would be shortsighted. Especially as more and more meals are eaten outside of the home, and those external food environments become less and less healthy.

When it comes to our children, one obvious place to start addressing the problem is school. For many of us, our children eat between five and ten meals per week at school. Over the course of the year, that equals nearly 360 meals. Basically, the same number of dinners we serve our kids each year!


But unlike when we’re preparing dinner, we have very little say in what our children are served when they’re in the lunch line.

Loosely enforced federal dietary guidelines, political lobbies, and even major food companies have much more influence over our children’s school food than most of us are aware. And let’s be honest, those companies and the lobby groups rarely have our children’s best interests at heart.


Take a look at most school menus and you’ll see more pizza than vegetables or fresh fruit. In many places, unhealthy foods outnumber healthy ones 4 to 1.8 Although to be fair, as long as there is enough of it, the pizza sauce is considered one serving of vegetables. Despite tomatoes being a fruit. Interpret that how you will.


It’s time for more balanced menus in schools, and it’s time we step up and demand better for our kids. Until we take action and hold our schools accountable for making meaningful changes, our children will continue to suffer the consequences of eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods and not enough of the right ones.



Calling on schools to replace some of the least healthy menu items with fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains is not an indictment of how much schools care about our children. Listen, they’re feeding our kids on shoestring budgets and doing the best they can. Just like us.



But, just like us, they need to step up and take responsibility for improving the health of our children. It’s common sense. It’s our collective responsibility.


More fruits and vegetables won’t magically appear on menus, and those tater tots and cheeseburgers aren’t going anywhere on their own. We don’t need a raw vegan, macrobiotic, Gwyneth Paltrow approved menu in every cafeteria — but we do need our children to be served fewer unhealthy foods 5–10 times per week.


Our current food system isn’t going to change itself. It’s up to us. We can take action at home, AND we can demand action at school. If a few simple changes could contribute to the length and quality of our children’s lives, how can we sit idly by?


So, I ask again, how far would you go to prevent your child from dying 14 years prematurely?


If you’re ready to take action, join the thousands of others like you who want better futures for our families.

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References


1. NIH study finds extreme obesity may shorten life expectancy up to 14 years. (2018). National Institutes of Health (NIH). Retrieved 1 March 2018, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-finds-extreme-obesitymay-shorten-life-expectancy-14-years


2. (2018). Retrieved 1 March 2018, from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr043743


3. U.S. childhood obesity rates rising again. (2018). U.S.. Retrieved 1 March 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-kids-obesity/u-s-childhood-obesity-rates-rising-again-idUSKCN1GB2X5


4. Why Good Nutrition is Important | Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2018). Cspinet.org. Retrieved 28 February 2018, from https://cspinet.org/eating-healthy/why-good-nutrition-important


5. About 90% of Americans Don’t Eat Enough Fruits and Vegetables. (2018). Time. Retrieved 1 March 2018, from http://time.com/5029164/fruit-vegetable-diet/


6. Beck, J. (2018). More Than Half of What Americans Eat Is ‘Ultra-Processed’. The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 March 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/03/more-than-half-of-what-americans-eat-is-ultra-processed/472791/


7. USDA ERS — Food-Away-from-Home. (2018). Ers.usda.gov. Retrieved 1 March 2018, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-choices-health/food-consumption-demand/food-away-from-home.aspx


8. Cooksey-Stowers, K., Schwartz, M., & Brownell, K. (2018). Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better Than Food Deserts in the United States. Retrieved 1 March 2018, from