Dear youth leaders, Pathfinder leaders, young adult leaders, Sabbath School leaders, big camp leaders—leaders of anything children-related in our churches.
I am genuinely confused by us. Yes, I name myself in this group as I have been involved in ministry with young people on and off since I left high school.
On one hand we have an excellent health message. Our research is on the cutting edge of emerging concepts in health and wellbeing. We are blessed to be able to bring a message of hope to so many people suffering chronic disease and the burden of illness and pain. I have been lucky enough to see some of our people present on many topics of health, and I can assure you our message is very well received within the preventative health sector. It is well received by esteemed researchers who are coming to the same conclusions. Preventative health is the way of the future and our Church is right in amongst it. Go us!
However, I get really confused when I attend camps and other events, particularly children’s events. Many of you are probably already thinking, Here we go, disgruntled mum soapbox moment. I get that, but hear me out . . . There seems to be a culture of junk food at children’s events. Have you noticed? At a Pathfinder meeting to commence the year, we celebrate with a dessert table full of chocolate, ice-cream and slices. At an Easter weekend church service, we hide chocolate eggs for the kids to find. At big camp, there are lollies as prizes. Youth social? Pizza and soft drink. Summer camps? Let’s do dessert nearly every night. Teen Sabbath School? Chips and nibbles to keep them coming. Are you seeing the pattern? We love to throw junk at our kids, teens and young people. I, too, am guilty of doing it.
This isn’t a whole lot different to what happens in the rest of society. There is always food associated with birthday parties, picnics and special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Lots of it is junk. Should it be that way? If you switch on the TV during a kids’ cartoon, ads will be there displaying junk food too. So our kids get it from all angles.
Once we get older and start making our own decisions, is it really silly to think that we might keep doing what we have always been taught—eating junk as a way of celebration? Why would we do anything differently? Maybe not until we get sick. Our clothes stop fitting. We start to feel tired, lack energy and wonder what’s wrong. We go to the doctor for a check-up in our mid-40s or early-50s and then get a bit of a wake-up call. Our cholesterol is high, our BP is raised and we need to lose a few kilos.
No worries, we have CHIP right! Yes, you’re right. It is helping people every day to see that life can be so much more abundant and full of energy. We rediscover that there is joy in movement and that we need to eat to live, not live to eat.
My hubby recently made a comment as I lamented the fact that my kids came home from a church event feeling sick from all the junk they ate. He said, “Honey, it’s just this event. Tonight you can feed them good food and all will be fine.” The thing is, it’s not just that one event is it? That one event turns into a weekly, and sometimes more than once weekly, occurrence. Think about your “normal” week. Here is an example I have created: it’s not a real week but it certainly could be. On Monday, at school, there is cake shared around to celebrate a child’s birthday. On Thursday night at your small group, someone brings a bag of lollies to share and offers them to your children. On Friday night it’s the usual dessert. On Sabbath, there are chips and juice in their Sabbath School. There is also a lolly handed out to the children who can recite their memory verse. Potluck lunch (need I say more), then on Saturday night there is a church social, along with dinner. Oh, and chips, fizzy drinks, juice and cake. Sunday sees the kids at a friend’s birthday party, and bringing home a party bag (full of lollies).
" . . . it's time to step back and look at what we are doing."
Before you make the comment that I should simply teach my kids to make better food choices, I agree completely. I, along with many other parents, am doing my best to teach my kids to make wise decisions regarding food. Collectively, we must be able to see that the environments our kids are growing up in are not helpful. When junk is a part of their learned experience, when “everyone else” is doing it, when their mentors throw lollies at them . . . well it’s a bit hard to say no all the time.
This article is not intended to make anyone feel bad. I’m not writing this imagining we will all immediately start eating a whole food, plant-based diet (though that would be great!). I do believe, however, that it’s time to step back and look at what we are doing. Mostly because I think we are doing it unintentionally.
Our kids go to a lot of events with church, school and friends as they grow up, and these events are great. Our health message is cutting edge and making an impact in people’s lives every day, giving back vitality and hope to people who had none. Yet we keep on feeding our kids and young people junk. We set them up for failure. As they grow up and get sick and tired of being sick and tired, we throw it back in their faces by telling them to make better food choices, have moderation and exercise more. We enrol them into CHIP, healthy cooking classes and gyms. Surely this leaves them confused!
Come on Church, it’s time to rethink health—especially for our kids. Let’s help them create memories that will last a lifetime and don’t always involve food. Our programs, camps and socials are already wonderful memory makers. Let’s strive to make more of our activities junk free. Let’s teach our kids what it means to be healthy. Let’s not wait until it’s too late. I believe with all my heart that our health message is for our kids, teens and youth too. Especially them! A healthy life starts right now, today, as you are reading this article.
Can we change? Yes. Should we? Absolutely. Will we? Of that I am not sure, but I hope this article will at least spark some conscious thought and deliberate conversation about the junk food/health food cycle we are establishing for our children as they grow up.
Garden-loving, health advocate mum (who doesn’t get it right all the time either)!
Carly Moore is a health education professional and mother who blogs at abespectacledlife.com.