I remember my elementary school teacher handing out ditto-machine outline drawings of the “Four Food Groups” for us to color (within the lines, of course). By my skillful hand, dull outlines of dairy products, meats, fruits & vegetables, and grains became artwork destined for the Louvre, or at least for the front of our refrigerator. I remember, too, that my mother, wittingly or unwittingly, packed lunches that tended to include the four food groups. A sandwich on white bread, an apple, some potato chips, and maybe a Chips Ahoy cookie was the typical fare. All of it washed down with a couple of cartons of milk (typically chocolate) at the wallet-busting price of $0.06 per half-pint.
Elementary and middle school peppered us with the “Four Food Groups” messages using every medium available to 1970’s educators. By the time we entered high school, we had heard so many times that we should include foods from each food group in every meal that we were numb to the message. The bigger problem, however, was that the message was shallow and wrong. The four food groups were politically-driven—“dairy” at the behest of the dairy industry, with obvious intentions; “grains” at the insistence of the USDA, whose stated goal is to promote the sale of grains; and who knows what other puppet masters behind the scenes? For all its intense repetition, the pyramid-shaped nutritional messages beamed into our brains had very little to do with our health and far more to do with politics and special interests.
Fortunately, the days of special interests and politically-driven nutritional advice are behind us. The guidance given to our school children by educators and nutritionists today is based upon sound science and is focused solely on what is best for the children.
No, of course it isn’t.
The nutritional advice today is even more of an abysmal joke than it was in the 1970’s. The faces have changed (the four food groups have given way to “My Plate”) but politics, bad science, and special interests are even more pervasive (and insidious) than they were decades ago.
Here we are, more than 40 years later, and our society still cannot manage to produce instructional material to teach our children the fundamentals of how the body responds to eating well versus eating poorly and what the principles of a healthful diet entail.
Until now, that is. And it took Tom Naughton to do it.
Entitled Fat Head Kids—Stuff About Diet and Health I Wish I Knew When I Was Your Age, Tom Naughton’s latest creation is, quite literally, the book I wish I had read when I was in middle school. Moreover, it’s the book about nutrition that I wish everyone had read in middle school. If they had, we probably wouldn’t be a nation of obese, diabetic, heart patients today.
Unlike the USDA’s “My Plate” drivel that tries to appeal to youngsters but falls painfully short, Fat Head Kids is fun and engaging from the beginning. And by “beginning,” I mean the cover itself. Illustrated by Tom’s wife Chareva, Fat Head Kids‘ illustrations enhance Tom’s already excellent content.
Naughton’s book begins by attacking the “gluttony and sloth” model of obesity, wherein the overweight are shamed into believing that losing weight is a matter of will. Naughton uses this initial chapter to introduce, and dispel, the simplistic calories-in/calories-out model that has caused so much frustration to so many. Assuaging the reader’s “guttony and sloth” guilt at the beginning of the book is a wise and considerate move.
Utilizing a lighthearted, space-themed approach, Fat Head Kids then introduces the reader to the spaceship Nautilus, a mechanical analogue to the human body. The Nautilus, along with entertaining characters that include a pointy eared canine science officer named Mr. Spot and the ship’s doctor, Dr. Fishbones, teaches the science behind healthy and unhealthy eating. The science is approachable and does a wonderful, and all too rare, service to the book’s adolescent audience: It treats kids like they have a brain. Instead of simply hammering an unsubstantiated “eat this, not that” message, Fat Head Kids makes a scientific case for eating well and an equally compelling case against eating the way today’s “experts” endorse.
Journeying through space on the Nautilus, we not only learn about the science of healthy and unhealthy eating, we learn about the politics of nutritional advice and about the social and political forces that drove scientists away from the scientific method and into the arms of special interests and misguided love for failed theories. Once again, Naughton strives to inform his reader, rather than offer unsubstantiated dogma like the kind that has, for too long, passed for science.
Wisely, Naughton concludes Fat Head Kids with a chapter entitled It’s Perfectly Good to be Good Instead of Perfect. Espousing a “perfect is the enemy of good” philosophy, the last chapter reminds the reader that simple changes, like avoiding refined sugars, vegetable oils, and grains, will have a profound impact on one’s life. Naugton reminds his young readers that life is a journey to be savored and cherished and worrying about having a perfect body or looking like a supermodel isn’t what’s important about life. Having a body healthy enough to enjoy life is what’s important.
I’m thrilled that Tom Naughton has written Fat Head Kids. Nature, they say, abhors a vacuum and there is indeed a vacuum in the world of sage nutritional advice for adolescents. Kids today are too sophisticated for superficial advice without merit or substantiation. Fat Head Kids teaches, not preaches.
I hope this book becomes part of every middle school curriculum. At the very least, I hope it flies off the shelves and finds its way into households all over the modern world.
And in a final note: During the recent Low Carb Cruise lecture series, Tom previewed an animated version of Fat Head Kids that is planned for release this fall. If you liked the style of the movie Fat Head and you love the content of Fat Head Kids, you’re going to love the movie Fat Head Kids. (And the highest praise I can offer is that Fat Head Kids, the movie, scored very favorably among the middle school-aged movie reviewers that I spoke to on the cruise.)
 Those of you who remember a ditto machine probably remember staying within the purple lines while coloring various drawing sheets that the teachers handed out. Learning about money? Color a ditto machine page featuring outlines of money. Learning about mammals? Color a ditto machine page of lions and tigers. You get the idea. And, of course, the favorite part of the day was the mildly hallucinogenic odor of the freshly printed ditto machine pages.
 I say more insidious becuse I don’t recall experts in the 1970s recommending statins for school children.
 Those of you familiar with my work know I’m a fan of Tom Naughton. I became a fan of his after seeing his wonderful documentary “Fat Head” and even more of a fan after getting to know him and learning what a great guy he is. When I wrote my book, “Don’t Die Early,” Tom reviewed it very favorably and he’s blogged for years, serving a wealth of information to his followers on diet, nutrition, and the politics of food. This is all to say that I’m certainly biased in favor of Tom and his work. That said, if I didn’t like “Fat Head Kids” I’m certainly not going to say otherwise.