The Family: An Essential Institution in the Fight Against Obesity

The Family: An Essential Institution in the Fight Against Obesity
The Family: An Essential Institution in the Fight Against Obesity

It is no coincidence that nutrition and nurture have a similar etymology. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, nurture means to encourage or care for someone or something that is growing or developing. Thus, the family and nutrition naturally come together.

The family should provide nutrition to its members by supplying it with wholesome food. Metaphorically, it also provides nutrition in terms of literature, entertainment and spirituality.

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Modern culture makes the family’s nurturing function difficult since we are so easily swayed towards providing our children attractive and delicious foods with no or little nutritional value. David Kessler, in his book, Your Food is Fooling You, writes “Our food is processed, broken down, and pre-chewed. It’s so easy to chew, it’s almost like adult baby food. You don’t have to think about it—just put it in your mouth, and it’s gone before you know it.”

It also endangers the spiritual health by exposing our children to the attractive and enticing media sound bites glorifying materialism, which frustrates their true hunger for deeper meaning. In both cases, our children are left paradoxically filled but also empty.

Strong Families Supply Order

A strong family life offers much needed order to the lives of children. Fathers and mothers can address not only avoiding unhealthy attachments to foods but also the culture’s call to pleasure through materialism and experiences. When we line up to purchase fast-food, junk food and snack food in abundance, we also, as a society, appear to feed our intellect, our spiritual and emotional lives with cheapened missives that emanate from the mass media marketing campaigns that drive our materialistic culture.

That is why the family can be an essential shield against this culture. There are all sorts of ways in which parents can work against some of the influences that affect obesity among children.

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Disconnecting the TV from the networks and reserving it for controlled DVDs with content that edifies the soul is one significant strategy. Parents might discourage those tight and unforgiving schedules that give way to pressures that are threatening our family structures, our own mental health and that of our children. They can keep out poor quality entertainment in the form of bad novels, violent and sensual video games, hyped-up movies and reality TV as a means towards depressurizing our lives.

All these things have made us ill by malnourishing our minds and spirits, leaving us spiritually ill, and emotionally empty, unable to find spiritual or emotional solace in our frantic preoccupations. Taking measures in these fields, will influence eating habits. It is interesting that the emptiness and dreariness of this generation’s outlook on life matches the colorless dinner plates they choose to consume. The family that is Christ-centered offers protection against society’s assault on hope.

Wholesome Foods Are Needed

Once the cultural influences are brought under control, the food we bring into the home should be wholesome and good. Snacks that are unhealthy should never be let into the home. If they are in the household pantry, then collect them in a big bag and throw them out. We falsely believe that the cookies, sodas and chips are treats and somehow bring comfort to our family. They do not. Almost all snacks are worthless and many cannot be correctly classified as food.

Yet, many families commit the fatal error of believing that this or that tasty item will be a delight for their children. This is a classic error for these foods create, early on, taste preferences that lead so easily to frenetic intemperance and a strong exclusion of healthy foods.

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Treats that Are Not Healthy

As a society we have misunderstood the significance of a treat and disturbed the taste preferences of entire generations with no hope of recovery. We should be saying to our children: “Johnny, because you performed so well in your studies this semester, I am going to prepare you the most delicious assortment of fruits served in a fruit salad.” The child will learn what true goodness is and will yearn for it through his entire life.

For many generations, the craving is for ice cream, apple pie, sundaes, chips, cookies and fries. The family plays an incredible role shielding the children from the new American snacking habit, which was successfully cultivated, by the Madison Avenue advertising giants, into a very lucrative market of which the salty-snack foods alone accounted for $28.2 billion in sales by 2013 (Forbes, 2014). The food industry spent in the vicinity of $11 billion per year in ads that conditioned consumer behaviors in very subtle and sophisticated ways (Nestle, 2002).

For the protective shield of the family to work, both parents have to set the example. They must eat with great zeal the healthy foods they want their children to eat.

Together at the Dinner Table
The Family: An Essential Institution in the Fight Against Obesity
A family dinner – by Norman Rockwell.

Finally, families must eat dinner meals together. It’s not to say that family meals solve everything, but eating together as a family unites children and parents around food, which nutritiously feeds our bodies. At the same time the conversation at the table nourishes the souls of those who are hungry to share, love and feel loved.

What a wonderful place the dinner table is! So many memories are found there. For those who wish to listen, it is at that table that memories are made and the nurturing of the youth takes place. It is a place that ultimately anchors the soul in family values, love and understanding. At this table not only is the body being fed, but so is the soul, fed with the nutrition of traditional family values, hopefully rooted in good morals.

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The family meal establishes order in the lives of those seated at that table, and an expectation that at least, when all else fails, the mealtime will reunite us, and through stories remind us of the virtues needed for a life well led. It is this kind of order that feeds hope in children and in families as a whole. It makes the family healthy and discourages obesity.


Dr. David Bissonnette is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at Minnesota State University, Mankato where he does obesity research. He advances that obesity is a mere symptom of a much greater social malaise which medical science has failed to address. He is author of two textbooks: It’s All About Nutrition and Nutrition for Healthcare Professionals. He has produced documentaries and manages the web site: The Nutrition Report.

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