SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

10-Year-Old Microcosm
By Rob Holston


August 21, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - I feel compelled to write about a little girl I met recently. I met her at work and we visited for parts of the two hours that she was with me in the wheelhouse during our excursion. I'll call her Chayleene. She was bright and talkative for a girl of 10 years of age. She's going into fifth grade and seemed in many respects to be a typical American girl for her age. It didn't take long for me to notice that Chayleene suffered from the abnormality of a deformed extremity at birth. But it didn't seem to slow her down at all as she handled her binoculars well when she used them to spot eagles or harbor seals along the way. Her outgoing personality soon had me looking well beyond what most people would consider a life changing "handicap". Chayleene had adjusted well to the hand she had been dealt, so to speak but in the time we spent together I learned she had problems far greater than her birth defect to deal with.

In a sense, I saw this child as a microcosm for her generation. Chayleene comes from a large family in more ways than one and Chayleene suffers from obesity. Through the windows surrounding us, I could see her dad and step-mom among the other guests. Chayleene was describing her family tree and it was anything but traditional. She has four brothers, all of them step brothers. She has sisters and half-sisters, a mom, a dad, a step-mom and a step-dad. She had just seen her brother who is in the army and whom she had not seen for a full three years! Our visiting was a little bit lop-sided as this young girl went on and on, unsolicited about her family and the vacation that she was on.

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Choose to Lose
Artist John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
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I thought back over the 25 or so years of teaching that I had done with children of her age. What would Chayleene's future hold for her? I finally got a chance to ask her a few questions.

"What's that you're eating?" I asked. "It's a hot dog." She replied. She had wrapped it up and brought it with her. "What's your favorite food?" I asked. "Spaghetti." Was her reply. "What's your second most favorite?" I continued. "Oh, that would be chicken al fredo at The Olive Garden." She quickly responded. Now I was envious. Olive Garden has such great ads on television and I have never been to one of their restaurants. But I know that when I was ten years old, nearly 50 years ago, I would NOT have been naming a precise menu item from an upscale restaurant as my favorite food! "Where are you from?" "Orange County." I've been there, I thought. "What's your favorite fruit?" There was a long pause and a puzzled look. "I don't have one, I guess" was her answer. "What are SOME of your favorites?" This little girl didn't even have a short list. It seemed like fruit was from another world which she either rarely visited or has only vague academic knowledge of. It made me wonder, "How many 10 year olds from Orange County even know what an orange is?"

I was curious now. "What's your favorite vegetable?" An even longer pause and a look of total bewilderment came over this little girl's face, her chubby little under-nourished face.

That was nearly the extent of our conversation, aside from some polite small talk. But it made me think about how this little 10 year old could possibly represent the AVERAGE 10 YEAR OLD IN THE USA today. How tragic. This kid seemed to be on the fast track to a short, unfulfilled life that will be punctuated by health conditions exacerbated by obesity. Her physical handicap since birth will pale in comparison to the physical and mental, yes emotional, social and psychological handicap that she and her "untraditional" American family have doomed her with.

Lists of diseases that have long been associated with "old people" are now becoming common among the "ten-year-olds" of this country. The sad thing is that the diseases that plagued the children of her grandparent's generation have mostly been eradicated from our country. She and her generation now suffer from the self-imposed sentence to a life of obesity and mal-nourishment because of the irresponsibility of poor parenting. Most ten-year-olds are now making all of the decisions in their lives of what to eat, how much to eat and what not to eat. Adults and schools are left with some control over only what is AVAILABLE for the ten-year-olds. That control is, sadly, not sufficient.

It is hard to blame a ten-year-old for not eating fruits and vegetables if they have no knowledge of fruits and vegetables. It is easy to blame TV and corporate America for brainwashing this generation on what is cool to eat. Food has become fashionable and the higher the profit margin, the more money that corporate America can funnel into the brainwashing of young kids through media. Unfortunately, the profit margin on most foods goes up as the nutritional value of that food goes down. The result of this reality is that the most popular foods have the least nutritional value and usually have the ingredients that lead to obesity and other health concerns. Could this be the crux of why we are raising a generation of disease prone overweight children?

Remember the basic "pallet premise"? The three tastes that man most wants are fat, salt and sweet. Look at the tremendous amounts of $ spent on advertising and you will see advertisements that promote products that are very heavy on fat, salt and sweets, but lean on fiber, nutrition and nourishment. This dilemma that faces the "ten-year-olds" of America is a huge national problem that could strain the national treasury as much as any Vietnam or Middle East war. As the children of today go, so goes the future of our country as they become the next generation of adults and then the premature aged of a disease ridden generations of geriatrics. It is time for parents, schools and corporate America to reverse this horrific trend. Like Chayleene, our children deserve better than what most are apparently getting.


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Rob is a retired teacher and a resident of Ketchikan, Alaska. He is not a health care professional; however, he has an interest in health and fitness. You should contact your doctor regarding all health care issues and follow your doctor's advice.
Contact Rob at holston[at]

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