THE BLOG
07/16/2013 11:33 am ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

The Other F Words: Fat, Food and Finance

Last month, the American Medical Association announced that obesity would now be classified as a disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity can lead to several serious conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and certain cancers.

Why the label? Money. Being called a disease will free up insurance coverage, prescription medication coverage and research dollars.

The first thought that came to my mind was "What about personal responsibility?" Then, I was struck by the similarity between obesity and family finance, and how over-indulgence and lack of education in either is a recipe for trouble. It has been my mission to promote financial literacy and to give parents the tools to raise financially literate children. I can't help but recognize how the same principles also apply to nutrition, healthy lifestyle and eating habits.

As Always, Parents: Teach Your Kids Early

Let's begin with the subject of Need Versus Want. Kids are pretty quick to learn "I want." When you respond with "You may want it, but you don't need it," they learn to plead their case by whining "I need it" just as quickly.

A Need: Something without which your daily living would be impossible, or very, very difficult.

A Want: Something that if you had, you'd be happier momentarily, but if you didn't, you could live
without.

While I usually apply this "I Want, I Want Syndrome" to material things such as the newest toys or the hottest fashion items, it certainly is relevant to food. We all need to eat, but we can choose between healthy and unhealthy foods.

Next, there's the subject of budget. A budget is a healthy way of handling money. We can also look at it as a healthy allocation of food. We would no more want our kids to spend all their calories on candy and high calorie junk food than we would want them to spend all their money on video games. Routines, if they are started when your kids are young, stay with them all their lives.

Helpful Tips:
  1. Create and stick to a shopping list. Involve your kids in the meal planning and shopping experience. Start by creating healthy menus for meals and snacks. There are great suggestions and tools on web sites such as Veggication.com. Figure out the grocery list and dollar budget. Before you head out, remind your kids that you will only buy the items you have put on the list. Assign each child a category -- such as vegetables or fruit -- that he or she will be helping you choose at the store. Make it clear that you won't add any other items to the cart when you are at the store.
  2. Whether money or food, everyone needs a little instant gratification. Allow your kids to choose one special snack choice that fits in their calorie and healthy food "budget."
  3. Just say "no" to over-spending and unhealthy foods. No is a perfectly acceptable word. Painful, I know, but effective. We have to say "no," and we have to mean it. Also, consistency is key. If your children know that no really means no, they won't be as tempted to nag as they will know their efforts will be in vain. It is also extremely important that you explain why you are saying "no" to the high sugar drinks and fat-filled treats.
  4. Teach by example. "Do as I say, not as I do" just doesn't work with kids.
Personal responsibility is still an important part of this discussion. Whether financial or nutritional, ultimately, adults are responsible for making their own healthy choices. But, in a world full of temptations, it is incumbent upon them to teach their children to be healthy-living and money savvy.

Cooking personality Paula Deen, dubbed Queen of Butter in The Huffington Post, had her first major scandal when it was revealed that she continued touting her over-the-top, super-unhealthy recipes for several years after her own diagnosis of Diabetes. Deen is one in a long line of TV chefs offering outrageous fare. Should all cooking shows offer the familiar "Don't eat this at home" warning label similar to the way that daredevil and other shows do?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg uncorked endless controversy when he tried to ban or control the size of sugary drinks. With one third of Americans clinically obese, no one is arguing the health benefit of avoiding or limiting consumption of these drinks. But, I agree with Steve Siebold who wrote: "Solving the obesity epidemic can only happen on an individual level with each person making a decision that he or she wants to get fit and healthy. It's about self-responsibility."

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

I want to make it clear that I am neither a healthcare nor a nutrition expert. I know that healthy living is a complicated subject which involves combining food and fitness. The new designation of obesity as a disease certainly has it's benefits so long as we don't remove personal responsibility and awareness. I also know that when it comes to food, just as with money, common sense, moderation, planning and education all play a vital role -- and our kids need our guidance.

Please share your thoughts on this topic in the space provided.