As I prepared my presentation for seventh and eighth graders at Long Branch Middle School as part of a WEForum health education event, I went through some serious reflection and creative thinking.
On one hand, if you had told me as a student in the late 1980s and early 1990s that we would have created an epidemic of chronic illness by 2018, I would have thought you were crazy. I thought for sure that my generation would be the one to at least begin to change course.
The fact is, the generations in power since the 1950s created this problem and then did a terrible job dealing with chronic illness. We continue to have a medical establishment that reactively treats disease instead of proactively preventing disease. Our society has only become sicker, more obese, less active and more reliant on prescription medication, and the cost in healthcare dollars and human life has been devastating.
On the other hand, I’m proud of these middle school and high school students. And I’m incredibly optimistic about the potential of the next generation of adults. These kids have the opportunity to be great.
They have access to infinite information at their fingertips. They want to be healthier. They know that they can avoid chronic illness by eating smarter, staying physically active, exercising their brains, reducing stress, and attacking health issues at the source instead of the symptom. They understand the importance of living in an environment with clean air, water and soil.
Of course, information and action are two different things. Kids can acquire the knowledge, but will they use it to make better health and lifestyle choices? I’m confident that they will.
I truly believe this generation is capable of succeeding where my generation failed. They have the ability and, I believe, the desire to stop the chronic illness epidemic and make society healthier.
If this is going to happen, adults need to stop talking down to kids all the time. For all the complaining adults do about “kids these days,” older generations seem to forget about the mess they created for them.
Manmade, processed foods. Toxic beverages like soda and energy drinks that have no nutritional value, sold in school vending machines. Sedentary lifestyles. An opioid crisis. Seeking pain relief from a bottle of pills.
Today’s kids didn’t come out of the womb with bad habits. They were taught those habits by generations before them. Poor lifestyle choices have been heavily marketed to kids. It’s not their fault.
To middle school and high school students, I challenge you to be great.
Don’t be discouraged by the situation you’re inheriting from my generation. Don’t be discouraged when adults talk down to you. Adults had their chance.
Now it’s your turn. It’s your turn to improve the well-being of people all over the world. It’s your turn to take control of your health.
Show adults, respectfully, how much knowledge you have. Show them that you know how to put that knowledge to good use. Understand your body and how it works. Learn what you can do to feel better, function better and live longer without medication or surgery.
Once you’ve become educated, make smart decisions. Take care of your body. Take care of your brain. Be careful about how you feed and exercise your body and brain. Avoid stressful situations as much as possible. Use your knowledge to take care of your family, friends and the environment.
That’s the great thing about health that my generation still hasn’t fully grasped. More often than not, health is determined by our own lifestyle choices. Very few people are destined to get sick and stay sick.
I believe in you, the new generation, to show us the way. Choose to be healthy. And choose to be great.