The real health risks at Disneyland (or any other theme park)

By Robert Niles: Disneyland is making the “regular” news in California today thanks to a group suing the theme park, claiming that Disneyland’s breaking the law regarding lead exposure.

I’m not one who hyperventilates every time someone files a lawsuit. Courts are supposed to settle disputes – let ’em do their job. If Disney’s in violation of the law, I hope that the suit forces Disney to correct the problems and pay an appropriate penalty. If Disney’s not violating the law, I hope that the company uses California’s malicious prosecution law to force the plaintiff to pay for wasting Disney’s and the court’s time with a frivolous suit.

But whatever the outcome, it seems ridiculous to me to get too worked up over the supposed danger of touch brass doorknobs or stained-glass windows when there are these other, much more serious health dangers at Disneyland (or other theme parks, for that matter).

Want to protect your kids and ensure that they grow up physically and mentally healthy? Then worry about these risks instead. (Just for the record, I agree that lead exposure is a horrible problem, but that the real risk is with continued exposure, not a few one-time instances.)

1. Soft drinks

The biggest lifetime health risk facing kids today isn’t lead exposure. It’s obesity. Want to help kids your kids (and yourself) healthy? Stop drinking sodas – they’re empty calories that provide you with nothing by weight gain. I’m a huge advocate for staying hydrated in theme parks. So guzzle all the water you want. Just say no to the soft drinks.

Salad at Disneyland

2. Spending a day of your life without eating a vegetable

Cutting the empty carbs is only part of the battle against obesity. You’ve got to start eating healthier food in place of the junk. Now, days you visit theme parks aren’t normal days. But even on special occasions, you never should go an entire day without eating a single vegetable. Disneyland actually does one of the beter jobs in the industry in preparing tasty meals that include fruits and vegetables (and no, french fries do not count). Take advantage, and don’t waste your day eating nothing but fried meat and batter.

3. Driving like a maniac to and from the theme park

What kills more kids in the United States each year than any other cause? Motor vehicle accidents. But I see plenty of people driving like jerks every time I drive to or from a theme park. Make everyone in the car wear a seat belt. Keep your young children in properly installed car seats. Pay attention to the road and traffic around you while driving. And never forget that driving is not a competition. You’re just trying to get to where you want to go, safely. Don’t get suckered into making this some type of contest.

4. Thinking that going on Storybook Land is an adequate substitute for reading a storybook at home

I’ve been doing a lot of research on education recently. And there are few more reliable markers for a child’s future health and success than whether a child lives in a home with books that are read. If you can afford a trip to a theme park, you can afford to have books in your home. Read them, so that your children will see you reading and want to do that themselves. Disney makes great movies, but it always makes book versions of those stories as well. Pick up some for the Disney fans in your home. Then make story time a nightly tradition.

5. Failing to act like the “guests” that Disney calls you

Children learn the behavior they see. So say “please” whenever you ask a question, and “thank you” whenever you are shown on to a ride. Allow others to go ahead in a crowd. Don’t curse or insult people. Walt Disney insisted on calling Disneyland’s visitors “guests” because he wanted his cast members to treat them with courtesy and respect. But let’s not forget that guests should treat their hosts with respect as well. Just because you paid to visit the park doesn’t grant you the right to abuse anyone there – employees or visitors. Be nice, and not will you raise nice children, you’ll raise calmer, happier children who don’t spend life developing the stress that will lead to health and relationship problems down the road.

6. Keeping your kids in stroller or on leashes, instead of letting them out to play and explore

Before I write anything else, let’s remember that Rule 5 always applies. Kids not only need to eat well to avoid obesity, they need to get physically active as well. Independent play promotes good health, confidence and social skills. And theme parks provide one of the safest, most enjoyable places imaginable for kids to explore. Let them. Again, Rule 5 applies, and you need to talk with your children about that before visiting the park.

But for heavens’ sake, kids who spend their lives on leashes, unable to run free and explore, imitating their parents’ bad behavior, never reading a book, flailing around in the back of a speeding car, eating junk and swigging soda pop are living a more dangerous life than a kid who tries to pull a sword from the stone at Disneyland. Let’s try not to lose sight of the real risks in life. /rant

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