THE BLOG

My Kid Is an Animal! (And So Is Yours)

02/23/2015 11:00 am ET | Updated Apr 25, 2015
Anup Shah via Getty Images

And so are you. And so am I. We are animals, all.

Mammals, to be more specific. We are animals like all others, part of the world, part of our planetary menagerie, and part of nature.

With that in mind, reflect for a moment about any nature programming you have ever enjoyed, from Animal Planet to Planet Earth. As the scenes are recalled, I trust you will agree that an impressive proportion of all such footage is about animals doing what they need to do to get food to sustain themselves. And of that, an impressive proportion is parents -- mostly mothers -- struggling to feed their offspring.

If we limit ourselves to our fellow mammals, the devotion of mothers to the sustenance of their young comes in two flavors: (1) breast milk; and (2) I'll have what she's having.

All mammal mothers feed their babies breast milk until the young develop enough to eat solid food. At that point, the kids start to eat what mom eats. Baby wildebeest eat grass; baby lions eat wildebeest. And so on.

There is no alternative. All animal babies learn to eat the food native to their kind, the food their parents eat, the food best suited to sustain them for a lifetime. There is no exception.

Except us. We have invented "kid food." We have done so at our obvious peril. We have done so to our collective shame.

What we call "kid food" is much of the junkiest of junk food, the most hyper-processed Frankenfood in the whole food supply. Yet this is what we market preferentially to our children.

We market this to our children, about whose health we presumably care. We market this to children we ostensibly love.

And we market this to children who, because they are children, are still growing. Food is the one and only construction material for the growing body of a child -- whether they are growing hooves or paws, talons or claws, massive muscles or a great, big Homo sapien brain. Food is the only construction material, and ours the only species to put willfully in its place what we all seem to agree is... junk.

The cost is appalling. We have epidemic childhood obesity to show for it. We have the routine diagnosis of what used to be adult-onset diabetes in kids. We have ever more significant risk for ever more serious disease in ever younger people because we, and we alone, conflate "junk" for food. Because we and we alone direct our offspring to a separate and gnarled branch of the food supply; because only we embrace the lamentable lie that kids should eat something other than real food, that multicolored marshmallows are part of a complete breakfast.

We are animals, and like all animals, are adapted to food in its native variations on the native theme of our species. We send our children to dine elsewhere at our peril -- and more condemningly, at their peril.

I have made the case before that we should, effectively, eradicate "kid food." But now I have some help -- from my kids. My non-profit foundation has just completed our third music video under the Unjunk Yourself label: "I'm an Animal."

My son, Gabe, soon to be 16, is our front man -- his own maturation on wholesome Katz Family food captured in images over years, inadvertently invoking the movie, Boyhood. Two of my four daughters appear in the video as back-up dancers. I am very proud that my kids -- animals, by the way -- are committed to paying forward to their peers the benefits of healthy living in which they were all raised.

The mission of the Unjunk Yourself videos is to take some of the messages about health passed around among concerned adults and convert them into a medium that is of, by, and for kids themselves. We want to empower kids with an understanding of the corporate profits derived at their expense. We want to create a bit of righteous indignation. We don't think kids should be caged in by the predations of Madison Avenue.

Please watch "I'm an Animal" -- share it with a kid and repeat.

My son is an animal, with a native animal vitality that deserves to be well fed. Your kids are animals, too, and they deserve to know about it. Please help us tell them -- and help set them free.

And I guess you better listen to me because, well -- I'm an animal!

-fin

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP and his wife, Catherine, have 5 children, 3 dogs, and a horse. They are all animals.

Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital

Editor-in-Chief, Childhood Obesity