I am worried about my granddaughter. She is getting chunky, and she’s only 4 years old. I tell my daughter about my worries, but she doesn’t seem to want to change her cooking habits. Do you have some dietary advice?
You are pinpointing a major problem: behavior change. It’s easy to think the problem is obesity. Consequently, we tend to give talks on the relationship between obesity and diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease—but all this education often runs like water off a duck’s back. People find our talks on fats and carbohydrates to be “old hat.” Of course, education provides a reason to change culture, though it may not be the means to do so.
Governments also use education to attack health problems, but education is not the fundamental mechanism of change.
Changing personal or cultural behavior is a monumental challenge. Sometimes we feel that just by promoting an “Adventist lifestyle” we will change people’s behavior. This alone does not work. Education, of course, is important, but how many smokers are unaware of the dangers of cigarette smoking? Motivation and values are operative in behavior change.
The behavior here is the behavior 
of your daughter more than that of the 4-year-old granddaughter; although, even at this point, your granddaughter has developed certain habits and a fat cell population that may predispose to a lifetime of being overweight.
There is a considerable body of evidence that shows values are transmitted through meaningful and trustworthy relationships. Values are learned almost intuitively and form the backbone of our cultures. Currently in North America and other regions of the world, a “toxic” culture exists that contributes to obesity. Trying to attack the problem of obesity on an individual case-by-case basis helps individuals see change; but as long as it remains individual, obesity will continue to be a problem in society as a whole. When will the greasy hamburger-and-fries “culture” come under serious question and be curbed? The change in smoking control came about when society addressed its problems and changed the environment by designating public areas as nonsmoking areas, prohibiting advertising, and attempting to make tobacco a regulated substance.
While it is advisable for you to develop, maintain, and enrich personal relationships with your daughter and granddaughter, it is not just their diet but their whole culture that needs to change. We speak of an “Adventist” culture, but in areas of health that too has slipped into being less healthful than optimal or even previously practiced.
We need to support study into the corporate practices of the food industry and support legislation that protects the quality of our food and promotes a healthful lifestyle—be it through promotion and funding of exercise, outdoor activity, school sports participation, and so forth. Our society is a physically indolent one, and we need to change it.
Within the church, “health” must be seen as a pursuit that gives gratitude and praise to God rather than the narrow, numbing, self-absorbed quest for a few more years, or avoidance of a dread disease. Once we wish to give glory to God, we enter a new paradigm in health promotion and will benefit from the healthful practices we embrace. Let us continue education for the individuals, but seek societal change for the nation—whichever nation that may be. 
Send your questions to Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or e-mail them to blackmers@gc.adventist.org. While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health. This article was published March 25, 2010.

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