My 8-year old son is obsessed with the video game Mine Craft. He organizes his free time around it, talks incessantly about “levels,” and refers to the miner “Steve” during dinner. I often worry about his obsession – but to be fair, I often obsess over what I’m into, too. I think about what I study so much (food, eating, fat, health) that I sometimes have a hard time explaining these thoughts to others. My ideas are evidence-based and clear in some corner of my mind, but not always easy to drag out for popular consumption. However, I find myself continually trying to articulate myself to public audiences, college students, and even my growing children. However, just as I get bored of hearing about Mine Craft, my children tend to be quickly bored by my obsession.
The other day, I actually had a conversation with my son that involved a moment of relief from our friend, “Steve.” My son began with the question, “why are people allowed to make cigarettes if they are unhealthy?” (Prompted, of course, by us passing a man smoking, who probably then heard him ask this question.) As is typical when this topic arises, I began with a professorial admonishment of the dangers of smoking. As his eyes rolled back into his head, I tried to switch gears and explain, as best as I could, the relevant history: People did not always understand that the chemicals in cigarettes could be deadly, people like the way smoking makes them feel, even if it may kill them some day (I never seem able to eliminate some drama from my discussion of smoking), and perhaps most importantly, people want to make money.
My son made it clear to me that “making money” is not a valid reason for producing a dangerous product. Hmmmm….This seems so simple to a child.
I took this opportunity to switch gears and discuss unhealthy food. My kids are tired of hearing me tell them to eat fruit and vegetables, to not eat too much “junk food,” and that what they eat is important to their health. However, children (and many adults) don’t always exercise great self-control around food and rarely think about the long-term importance of making good food choices. However, for a moment, I think I made some headway when I tried to explain that people sell food to make money and not to make us healthier. Again he asked, “why are people allowed to sell something that could hurt us?”
We didn’t have time to delve into the politics or philosophy of free choice. I’m guessing this would have been lost on him anyway; most kids don’t exactly feel like they have “free choice.” (As my son once told me, “I can’t wait to be a grown up so that I can eat candy whenever I want!”) And, I’m not sure he would have appreciated my passionate views about the importance of implementing public health policy that guides us towards making good food choices. It seems my view is the minority view these days.
But, the bottom line is pretty simple: education, public health policies and, perhaps, especially legislation have led to a significant drop in the rates of smoking (Wagenaar, Salois, & Komro, 2009). I don’t know of a single (former) smoker who regrets quitting.
Would it be so terrible if public health policy and legislation encouraged all of us to eat a bit better, too? One day, will we look back at Big Gulps and wonder how anyone could have purchased those ginormous drinks the way that an 8-year old obsessed with Mine Craft wonders why anyone would ever smoke?
Wagenaar A.C., Salois, M.J., and Komro, K.A. (2009). Effects of beverage alcohol price and tax levels on drinking: A meta-analysis of 1003 estimates from 112 studies. Addiction 104, 179–90.