This is one of those times that I really wish I had some really profound theological truth to write about. Something that someone might say…”That really brought me closer to God!” But I don’t. In fact, this is one of those topics that no one really wants to talk about–but should because as youth workers, we may be contributing to the nationwide epidemic of obesity.
Now I’m the first one to blow the whistle on all of those groups that are trying to sue food companies for selling fatty foods. People blame the companies, but parents are guilty of allowing their children to eat whatever they want with no mind for moderation. Parents need to take an active role in educating themselves about nutrition and their children’s eating habits. But we play a role in this because we work with students and we are working with families to support them. Spiritual growth has a lot to do with our physical health as well.
According to the CDC, 16% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 are overweight. On top of that another 15% were at risk for becoming overweight. What are we doing to contribute to these statistics? Everything!
So you’re having this huge youth get together at the end of the week and you need to get some food. What is the #1 food of choice for youth groups? Pizza! It’s easy. It’s cheap. It tastes great and the kids love it! But man…is it bad for you. A single slice of pizza can have over 300 calories and 23 grams of fat! That’s horrible! I looked at the food I was serving our Jr. High students a couple of weeks ago and this is no exaggeration: Potato chips, Oreos, Mountain Dew, cheese puffs and Fritos. Nothing of any health value.
We are not the sole cause of obesity among adolescents, but what are the major contributing factors?
- poor eating habits
- overeating or binging
- lack of exercise (i.e., couch potato kids)
- family history of obesity
- medical illnesses (endocrine, neurological problems)
- medications (steroids, some psychiatric medications)
- stressful life events or changes (separations, divorce, moves, deaths, abuse)
- family and peer problems
- low self-esteem
- depression or other emotional problems
I think as youth workers, it is completely appropriate for us to talk to kids who may have weight problems and ask what we can do to help. We aren’t going to surprise them–they know they’re overweight and they know they have a problem. As a former obese person, I would of loved if someone would of come to me and said: “Hey, I want to help you!” Sure I might of been a little embarassed at first, but that would of been someone reaching out to save my life.
So here are a few action steps or practical ideas we can use to still have fun food at youth events.
- If you insist on having pizza, skip the supreme. Have a few veggie choices on your pizzas. Or even better, make your own whole wheat pizzas with turkey pepperoni. I swear to you that you will not notice the difference between turkey pepperoni and regular–they taste exactly the same and are a TON better for you.
- Consider a sub sandwich from Subway or other deli. Turkey. Ham. Both are good alternatives for fatty foods. Just watch it on the cheese and mayo.
- Buy just enough food for your students to discourage “seconds”. Typically when I order pizza I plan on 2 slices per person. If you start the meal off by saying “Okay, get 1 slice and wait till everyone goes through and then you can have a 2nd.” This does 2 things: First, you’re helping to control portion size and second, you’re helping them to eat slowly. The slower we eat, the faster we feel full.
- Play some active games! Running relays. Crazy crab walks. Mix it up! Get them running and get that heart rate up to burn off calories.
- Believe it or not, if you put veggies out to eat, students will eat them. I’m amazed at how much of our carrots and broccoli get eaten when we put them out to eat. But here’s the trick: Find a good low-fat dip. They’ll never know the difference!
- Who doesn’t love “Ants on a log” (Celery with peanut butter and raisins)? Actually…I don’t love it. I’m allergic to peanut butter and I hate celery. But it’s a childhood treat for many of our students that still would love to eat it. Celery is good for you. Peanut butter is good for you. Raisins are good for you!
- Most importantly: Be the example. Since my weight loss, I’ve purposely tried to live out in front of my students a healthier lifestyle. If you’re overweight, try to start losing. Believe me, if I can do it anyone can. My system isn’t flawless, but it was easier and it worked. Contact me if you have questions.
What do you do in your youth group for food?
Have you ever considered healthier alternatives?
Is obesity a problem in your area?