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Poverty, Technology, Obesity, and Families

Signs and Wonders



ID-100208297Eradicating Extreme Poverty. Turn the clock back 100 years, and the overwhelming majority of the people on the planet were poor to the point of starving. Today is very different. While there is still much to do to provide dignified lives to all people, the “Green Revolution” of the mid-20th century radically changed the food picture on the planet. Today, starving people are much more likely to be the result of war or totalitarian regimes than an actual shortage of food. In fact, a new report by the World Health Organization says that a growing problem in the developing world is childhood obesity. Newsweek reported on the study, saying, “Childhood obesity is no longer the preserve of wealthy nations. There are more overweight and obese children in the developing world, in terms of absolute numbers, and an upward trend is evident.” The report outlined six sets of recommendations for ending childhood obesity, including access to affordable healthy foods and more physical activity. The “story behind the story” here is that technology, democracy, and free markets have all but solved a problem that has plagued mankind for centuries. Childhood obesity is an unintended consequence of this new abundance, and it’s a problem. But we should be celebrating, not bemoaning, the fact that we’re now dealing with a much more manageable problem.

Missing Fathers. Speaking of childhood obesity, a different study suggests that dietary reforms are not the answer. Strengthening the family is. An international team of scholars from the University of Kanas, the University of Copenhagen, and elsewhere found that the breakup of a child’s family may contribute to obesity. The researchers explain, “Early parental separation may be a stress factor causing a long-term alteration in the [child’s] hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis activity possibly impacting on the susceptibility to develop[ing] overweight and obesity.” The researchers said this effect seemed to start in the womb. The study looked at nearly 9,000 Danish children and found some sub-groups were more than three times as likely as a control group to be overweight or obese. Bryce Christenson and Nicole King wrote about the new study in The Family In America. They concluded: “The very possibility of such a ‘fetal programming effect’ might give public-health officials pause. For such an effect may render futile attempts to fight child obesity simply by changing children’s diet. Whether they are waging their war against childhood obesity in Copenhagen or Chicago, public-health officials may need to start thinking less about what children eat and more about whether children live with both parents.”

Carol Burnett Speaks. Some of my conservative friends are circulating a story from an unlikely source: “The Hollywood Reporter.” In the story, comedy icon Carol Burnett offers an opinion of the vulgar, no-holds-barred comedy of today. She says, “I am kind of bored of producers saying, ‘It's got to be edgy.’ Edgy is fine. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. . . . [But] now sitcoms sound like they've been written by teenage boys in a locker room.” She goes on to say: “Funny is funny. I dare anyone to look at Tim Conway and Harvey Korman doing the dentist sketch, which is more than 40 years old, and not scream with laughter. A lot of comedy today is so fast—it's like: ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’—because they think people can't pay enough attention. Barry Levinson [who wrote for ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ before becoming a director] and Rudy De Luca wrote one of my favorite sketches. It was called ‘The Pail,’ and in it, Harvey is my psychiatrist and I'm having a session with him. It takes about five or six minutes into the sketch until we got our first laugh, but it built and built and built, and the punch line was great. It's about a girl who was traumatized by a bully in the sandbox when she was 6 years old, and he stole her little pail—and it turns out the psychiatrist was the bully. It is absolutely hysterical, but it took all that time to build. Today the suits say, ‘It's got to be fast.’ So I think some of the writing isn't good anymore.” Carol Burnett is right, and that’s why I’m grateful for comics like Tim Hawkins, Jim Gaffigan, and Brad Stine, whom Eric Metaxas featured in a BreakPoint commentary a few years ago and whom John Stonestreet and I profiled in our book “Restoring All Things.”

Leave Me Alone and Take Me to the Mall. Here’s a factoid for the next edition of “Freakonomics”: According to a new study from the University of Michigan, the percentage of 16 to 44 year olds with driver’s licenses has decreased significantly in the past few decades. The drop has been most noticeable among the young. In 1983, 91.8 percent of 20 to 24 year olds had driver’s licenses. In 2014, the percentage was 76.7 percent. Naomi Schaefer Riley, writing in the New York Post, remembers when “my friends and I made appointments at DMVs in towns 40 minutes away just so we could get a permit as close to our 16th birthdays as possible.” She wonders: “How did we move from a country where having a car was the single most important sign of independence to one in which respondents actually told researchers that they were ‘too busy’ to get a license?” There are likely some good and relatively innocuous reasons: the growth of public transit, and a trend toward urban living and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. But Riley worries that kids without licenses are not motivated or able to get jobs. What is that doing to the work ethic of young people? She thinks an entitled generation is only too happy to let Mom be chauffeur, providing door-to-door service for their trips to the mall, while they continue to text and talk or watch videos from the back seat of the SUV or minivan. I commend her thoughtful article to you.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Warren Cole Smith, an investigative journalist and author, recently joined the Colson Center as vice president for mission advancement.


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