Kids' calories: It's all about burning off, not taking in

February 26, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

THE GOVERNMENT has no business telling us how big our rear ends can get. Or how fat we are. Or that we can't wolf down junk food by the plateful if we want to.

No, it's none of the government's business, but that doesn't stop some government agencies from doing it anyway. The latest would be the august members of the state school board, who came up this past week with "nutrition standards" - not for themselves but for your kids.

Now some folks are still stubborn enough to think matters like this are their business, not the government's. It is for those who cling to the notion that government should do its best to butt out of our private lives that I suggest the problem with American kids isn't the calories they ingest, but the calories they fail to burn.

In the past couple of years, I've visited a few places, some of them quite poor when compared to the United States. And during my trips to Cuba, Grenada and Panama, I noticed one thing: very few fat kids.

Indeed, passing a playground in Panama City where a group of boys in the 9-to-12 age range were playing soccer, I saw not a chubmeister among the bunch. One boy ran up to the soccer ball and kicked it a good 30 to 40 yards down the field. When I rode across Panama to Colon, I noticed the same pattern: kids playing soccer and baseball.

It was the same in Cuba, with the emphasis on baseball, which is nearly a religion on the island. Soccer seemed to be the sport of choice for Grenadian youth.

Now before you - and the members of our state school board - say there must be no junk food in those countries, I'm compelled to point out that I saw several KFC joints in Panama and Grenada. (Cuba would have them too, if we weren't still punishing Fidel Castro for his kooky belief that his country belongs to Cubans and is not America's brothel.)

No, my guess is that kids in those countries are just more active. Not being as affluent, boys and girls in poorer countries don't park themselves in front of television sets or play video games all day long. They get out. They move. They play games and burn calories.

Surely America's new Fat Police don't think kids in previous generations ate less junk food than today's youngsters. I'm a baby boomer, and I'm here to tell you we sucked down junk food by the ton.

When I was a boy growing up in West Baltimore I practically lived in a place on Fremont Ave. called Amrhein's Bakery. If I wasn't there, I'd be in some other store, along with dozens of other kids, making selections from a veritable junk food cornucopia.

There were potato chips. Cupcakes. Sodas. Mars bars. Hershey bars. Mr. Goodbars. Snickers bars. Jelly doughnuts. Chocolate doughnuts. Honeydips.

HONEYDIPS!

The greatest junk food of all time. The grand poobah of them all. The charter member of the Junk Food Hall of Fame.

Yes. The honeydip. Devoid of any nutritional value and high in calories and fat. We wolfed down honeydips and all the other junk foods and survived it. There wasn't this "obesity crisis" our government officials are wringing their hands about today. Why?

Because we burned the calories from junk food up almost as soon as it hit our bellies. We didn't camp out in front of the television. Heck, there were only three channels. When we got home from school in the afternoon, the only thing on was soap operas.

There were no video games. So we made up our own outdoor, physical, proud-to-be-a-kid-growin'-up-in-the-U.S.-of-A-type games. When I lived in the Murphy Homes housing projects, our favorite calorie-burning activity was a game called Red Line In. It was a variation of tag in which two teams took turns chasing and catching the other. Guys like Nat Burrell and his brother Marty ran me ragged during our spring and summer Red Line In sessions. I must have burned millions of calories in the process.

In one of my elementary schools we played Greek dodge ball during recess. Simply put, Greek dodge was legalized assault and battery. But it got the job of burning calories done.

Recess is fast disappearing from many American schools. If the folks running them want skinnier kids, then they'd best return to the days when recess was more than when a judge ordered jurors to go to lunch.

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