Likewise, I think it’s harmful to teach kids about unhealthy vs. healthy food. The danger lies in the rhetoric, what we say, how we talk about the topic.
The problem is that young kids learn in black and white. If you’ve ever been around kids, you know this is true. They take things very literal. They don’t yet have a developed vocabulary to understand all the gray area found in food hierarchy.
When you’re teaching kids about right and wrong, you use words like “bad” and “good”. They learn what these words mean before they can understand abstract concepts such as “sometimes” or “depending on the situation”.
If you’re going to teach kids about unhealthy/healthy food, until they are in about the 6th grade, they will translate your words into black and white statements, wrong and right, and bad vs. good.
Tell a little kid that certain foods are unhealthy and they will look at you and either stare or say “what” or ask you what that means. You might say, “Well, unhealthy means it’s not good for your body to eat that all the time.” Kid translation, “Not good means bad. This is a bad food”.
Or you might take a different approach and tell them that unhealthy food will make you feel sick. No one likes a belly ache. If the kid is old enough to understand this, he might follow your advice. But a stomach ache is still “bad” in his mind, and he will still think of that food as being “bad”.
The problem with learning that some foods are bad is that it becomes a moral decision. If you eat a “bad” food then you committed a “bad” act. Does it merit a time-out, a spanking, or something worse?
It would be better to let children learn about how food affects them on an individual basis. Kids learn about their bodies and their appetites through experience. They develop preferences and likes and dislikes over a span of many years.
Telling a kid that a food they like, i.e. ice cream or candy, is unhealthy will create confusing signals in their developing brains. “How can something I like and that tastes good be bad?”
Some kids, if they aren’t ever allowed to have “bad” or “unhealthy” food, might resort to hiding food, hoarding food, obsessing over food, or lying about what they ate. This causes unnecessary shame and guilt for a little kid because in their minds it becomes:
If you eat “bad” food, you become a “bad” person.
Even as adults, we tend to think this way. Because of our “thin obsessed” culture, foods that could potential cause you to gain weight are deemed “bad” or, have you heard the phrase “sinfully delicious”. Foods that could potential cause health problems are called “unhealthy” regardless of scientific backing or not.
The bottom line is: Food choices are not moral choices. Food choices are preferential, like favorite colors, picking out furniture for your home, or listening to certain music as opposed to others. You are not a good or bad person depending on what you choose to eat.
And, actually, if you think about it, food choices have more to do with social status. Because some foods are more expensive than others, i.e. organic brands, food choices can become another way to separate the society’s classes. But that could be a whole other post in and of itself.
No one should tell another person what to eat or not eat. Each person is so intrinsically different and has his or her own needs, preferences, and individuality. If certain foods make you feel physically ill, give you a headache, indigestion, etc, there is no reason to ignore your individual reaction. However, other people might have no problems with those foods. The problem lies in using blanket statements categorizing food into black and white, good and bad lists.
In reality, we don’t know everything there is to know about nutrition, healthy, and preventing life-threatening diseases. I think healthy problems are more related to genetics and hereditary factors than to what someone does or doesn’t eat.
Whether or not that’s true, the state of someone’s soul does not depend on what they do or don’t eat. The truth is everyone is going to die at some time or another. Instead of obsessing over your food choices, spend more time getting your heart and soul in shape. If we all spent as much time in prayer as we do thinking about unhealthy vs. healthy food, the world would be a much better place.