Once upon a time, Ma would say: "Sit up and eat your vegetables." Pa said: "Don't talk with your mouth full."
Other common utterances included: "Go outside and play." And, "After you finish your chores."
Families may not have been happier — and family dinners may have been daily rituals of tiny tortures — but neither were the words "childhood obesity" part of the vernacular.
Fat kids (can we say that?) have always been among us, but obesity was not the plague it is today. Nor was it necessary for the federal government to instruct families about how and what to eat.
This isn't nostalgia speaking. And though I tried to provide family dinners most nights when the kids were small, I told my son when he left for college: "You're gonna miss my takeout."
Then again, it's no mystery why kids are fatter these days or what is required to fix the problem. Eat less. Move more. Listen to your parents — if you can find them.
Bless first lady Michelle Obama for trying to get the word out about eating vegetables and playing ball. I'm as willing as anyone to be cynical about such messages, but the message is important and someone has to say it.
But maternal advice is one thing and a government-enforced nutritional mandate is another. Transfats are now outlawed in places; spuds in school lunches are the latest target.
The questions of when and whether the government should intervene in matters of personal taste are not harmless. As government becomes more involved in health decisions, government necessarily will become more involved in personal nutrition issues.
The same strategy that created pariahs out of smokers now is being aimed at people who eat unattractively. It isn't only that you're hurting yourself by eating too much of the wrong foods; you're hurting the rest of us by willfully contributing to your own poor health and, therefore, to the cost of public health.
The numbers crunchers have started quantifying the cost to society incurred by people who eat too much — $100 billion a year, according to one estimate.
The stats are alarming, especially regarding children. The rate of childhood obesity has doubled for preschool children in the past three decades. About 9 million children older than 6 are considered obese.
The issue isn't only about spuds in the school lunches, though overconsumption of high glycemic carbohydrates is a problem. At least as significant, if not utterly crucial, are poverty and shattered families, which often go hand-in-hand. Also significant are the high cost of healthy food versus cheap fast food.
Thus, it seems clear that the real solution to obesity isn't more government regulation but more personal responsibility. This now-dusty notion is the impetus behind the recently launched "Together Counts" campaign, created by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition of 160 organizations. Essentially, it's a private effort to encourage families to become healthier by spending more time exercising and eating together.
Once upon a time we called this "life," but we postmodernists apparently need a little help with the basics.
Whatever works, I reckon. But, fuddy-duddily speaking, more chores and fewer gadgets — and married parents who torture their kids with rules — probably would do the trick as well.