If you have to choose between eating and smoking as a vice for your child, which one do you think is the lesser of the two evils? A recent article in the New York Times discusses the dilemma that health experts, parents and policy makers alike have to face: which problem do they tackle first: childhood obesity or teenage smoking?
And the conclusion is that childhood obesity is gaining most of the attention, not to mention most of the funding. The reason? Childhood obesity is the “new kid on the block” whereas smoking is “old news.”
The US First Lady Michelle Obama recently launched the Let’s Move campaign, with the slogan “America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids.”.
Many non-profit organizations are shifting their funding efforts from anti-smoking campaigns to childhood obesity prevention campaigns. No wonder anti-smoking advocates are getting concerned. Although the anti-smoking campaign has made a lot of headway in the last 20 years, from anti-smoking legislations to regulation of cigarette advertising, packaging and marketing, they feel that there is still a lot of work to be done and that teenage smoking is a prevalent as ever. 19.5% of American high school students are smoking cigarettes. They argue that the health risks of smoking are much more serious than those of obesity.
Unfortunately, there is no accurate way to calculate lifetime health risks of obesity vs. smoking. And even if there is, I think bickering as to which problem is more important is counterproductive. Obesity and smoking are both our enemies. Besides, there are many other enemies out there: teenage abuse of drugs and alcohol, poverty, violence, just to name a few.
Many experts point out that most of the anti-obesity programs and interventions haven’t really come up with convincing results and that the money put into these are wasted. On the other hand, this highlights the need for more research and efforts to find the measures that can prevent obesity. It took years for anti-smoking campaigns to bear fruit. Maybe we should give anti-obesity campaigns a bit more time to prove themselves.
But what if you have to choose? The NYT article puts forwards this
“…suppose the nation had to make a choice between proven anti-obesity programs and proven anti-smoking programs. What would be best for a child with a predisposition to be obese and to smoke? Should you have programs that would prevent the child from gaining weight? Or should you wait until the child is a teenager and institute programs to prevent smoking?”
Tough choice, indeed.
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