When I was a kid, I used to read the comics in the newspaper. We called them “the funnies.” Does anyone still call them the funnies? Even the ones that weren’t funny–Rex Morgan, MD and Brenda Starr, for example–were “the funnies,” and I read them all.

I don’t read them much anymore–but yesterday I happened to see a Mallard Fillmore strip that made me angry.

Do you know Mallard Fillmore? He’s been around for about 17 years. It’s a strip with a conservative point of view; interesting that he’s a duck who’s named after Millard Fillmore, the sixth-worst President of all-time, who “backed the Compromise of 1850 that delayed the Southern secession by allowing slavery to spread.”

"Slavery? I'm okay with that."

I think politics in comics are just fine. But yesterday, Mallard Fillmore strayed into health care and hunger when our duckish hero proclaimed, “Most of the world would kill for the opportunity to have a childhood obesity problem.”

This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. But I’ll try:

Childhood obesity isn’t a problem because kids eat too much. It’s a problem because kids eat too much bad food–too much food filled with sugar and fat and cheap carbohydrates. According to the Food Research and Action Center, “Obesity is a major public health problem in the U.S.  While all segments of the population are affected, low-income and food insecure people are especially vulnerable due to the additional risk factors associated with poverty, including limited resources, limited access to healthy and affordable foods, and limited opportunities for physical activity.  Even individuals who are highly motivated can have difficulty eating healthy and being active if their environments do not support or allow such behaviors.”

The offending strip.

And that’s the issue. We subsidize bad food to make it cheaper, and we promote the hell out of it. We make more nutritious food more expensive and harder to buy–and we don’t help people learn to prepare it appropriately. It’s easier and cheaper to go through the drive-through at McDonald’s.

Childhood obesity is an epidemic in America. It’s leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and lots of other health problems that are avoidable–in kids. It’s also setting up kids for a lifetime of health issues and, to be frank, a very short lifetime overall.

Lots of people–including our buddy Peyton Manning with Project 18–are trying to do something about childhood obesity. But it’s a fight that’s going to have to involve all of us. Parents have to learn better nutrition. They have to model better eating behavior and promote more active lifestyles. We have to stop feeding our kids so much crap–and get them to understand that “you are what you eat.”

It would be nice if we could get the government to stop subsidizing the production of cheap food that’s bad for us. Don’t get me started on that topic.

And we need to do what we can to fight hunger and poverty in our communities. In Indianapolis, Second Helpings does a beautiful job of this. But the need is growing, and this and other community kitchens can use your support.

Childhood obesity, like Mallard Fillmore, isn’t funny. We’re killing our kids. It’s time to stop that.