I was sitting in the lobby of a major teaching hospital on the east coast. It draws patients from a large region - rural and urban, affluent and "underserved". I have several hours to sit and wait so I am people watching. People stroll (hand in hand with their caregiver), rush (usually in scrubs), roll (in wheelchairs), and walk by.
I am struck by how far apart the general healthy eating advice we give is from the chronic disease processes being treated in this hospital. My Plate is bright and cute. Disease is sad and painful. The gap is huge.
I'm not sure young people "get it". I think the promise (or hope) of deferred chronic health problems is too remote. I fear the vision of life as an older person with a calendar full of doctor appointments and a kitchen counter covered with meds is too fuzzy to the young person who is living large. Living large literally. Overweight and out of shape. I am deeply concerned about the overweight and obesity I see in the 20-30 year old population.
That feeling of "I'll lose weight later" or "I'll live forever" is killing these kids (I can call them that). When they are my age, they will not be sitting in the lobby of the hospital, they will be in the operating room, in the procedure labs, in line at the pharmacy, and inpatients.
How can we make our healthy eating messages more relevant to young people?
We can talk about how healthy food gives you vim and vigor NOW. We can talk about how when you are in shape, you feel better NOW. You can climb stairs and not be out of breath. We can talk about the "high" you get from a great workout, rather than from an energy drink.
We need to craft our messages carefully. Kids don't care about grams of fat. Teens don't care about drinking milk to prevent osteoporosis. Young adults don't care about increasing whole grains to lower blood pressure or blood lipids.
I'm guest speaking in high school health classes next week. I've decided to trash the PowerPoint with the official Dietary Guidelines "Select Messages for Consumers" (although I have managed to make those entertaining in the past) and am planning 6 stations with hands-on learning. Students will rotate through the stations, seeing the fat content of appetizers in "fat tubes", measuring the sugar content of Mt. Dew, rank ordering "juice" drinks by percent juice content, Tweeting a message to their peers about what they learned about the caffeine content of energy drinks, and creating a hash tag phrase about eating breakfast.
Keeping it real.