Sunday, April 23, 2006

Honey We're Killing the Kids

I've watched a couple of episodes of Honey We're Killing the Kids on TLC and I have some thoughts.

First of all, I think the basic idea is great. Show parents how their kids will look at age 40 if they keep eating and living in their current manner. Usually the kids (which have been all boys so far) wind up looking like thugs at 40. Chubby thugs.

Then the family is guided by a nutritionist for 3 weeks and given 3 new rules each week that center on eating habits, exercise, de-stressing, and cutting down on TV, video games and other sedentary activities. Other rules are tailored to the particular family. For instance, both parents in one family needed to stop smoking. In another family the two older kids were sent to etiquette class because they were so rude to their parents.

They also do try to take care of the parents some. In the last show I watched the mom received a session with a personal trainer and found a renewed interest in exercise. I thought that was a very positive change in her life.

I have had a problem so far with the meals the nutritionist gives the families. On the first show, the first meal was paella. Expensive, complicated, and containing lots of seafood that the family had never tried before. On the second show the first meal was tofu stir-fry. Either one of those meals sound great to me. However, I think giving these complicated meals that generally require a more sophisticated palate to families with young children used to lots of simple junk food is unrealistic if they're expecting the changes to stick. Has the nutritionist never heard of a chicken breast?

For breakfast one morning one of the families ate plain oatmeal. Have you ever eaten plain oatmeal? It tastes like cardboard. How about some cinnamon, a couple of raisins, real maple syrup, a little honey, maybe a touch of Splenda. SOMETHING that would make it so these kids didn't loathe the word "oatmeal" for the rest of their lives.

Most food plans you read about or hear of will tell you right off that you will never change your habits permanently if you try to eat stuff that you don't like or that is completely unrealistic for your lifestyle. It's just too easy to fall back on fast food or convenient snacks if the food is complicated and doesn't taste good. I think tofu stir-fry is definitely something most familes would need to ease into, particularly most families who haven't seen a green vegetable in months. There are very simple, tastey ways to eat healthy that won't be a complete shock to the system and will leave the family wanting more of the same instead of dreading meal time and sneaking unhealthy snacks.

I also didn't agree with the nutritionist letting them keep all the junk food in the house on a sort of honor system. The temptation proved too great for the 8 year-old and he snuck some mini muffins. Yeah, um maybe 'cause he's 8! I think his impulse control is not completely developed yet. I am a big believer in getting the junk out of the house permanently so that the temptation isn't even there. There's enough temptation in the regular world for adults and kids alike, why not make home a healthy haven?

I love the drama though! When they show the pictures of the kids at the beginning the 40 year-old kids always look sullen and greasy. They give them ratty clothes and bad haircuts - I've noticed they really like the receding hairline and the mullet. The one kid with a tendency for a unibrow had a very pronounced unibrow at 40. Um, so apparently when you eat junk food you lose all desire for any sort of personal grooming?

The pictures of the aged kids at the end, after the plan is in place, and assuming the kids stick to the plan, shows 40 year-old men who are smiling, clean-cut and generally wearing preppy clothes (although one kid looked like he belonged in Miami Vice at the end. Bright yellow T-shirt under a black sport coat. I didn't see if the sleeves were pushed up or not). I wonder if the parents recongize how manipulative the pictures are.

Like I said, overall I think the show is a good idea, but it needs to be tweaked a little.

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