Most trends come and go. Remember the flat and long hair of the 70s replaced by the big hair of the 80s? What about bell-bottoms and leg warmers, usurped by the presently trendy and seriously cool skinny jeans? Silly Bandz? The Rachel hairdo?
Unfortunately, the distinctly American trend of childhood obesity is not going away.
For three decades, we’ve been getting bigger and bigger as childhood obesity rates have alarmingly tripled.
Today, according to numbers published by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity, nearly one in three children are overweight or obese. If nothing is done, the Task Force says a full one-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.
The inevitable question is “Why?” The obvious answer includes a lot of social and economic reasons. On the most basic level, the answer is: Our kids eat too much and exercise too little.
Portion sizes are out of whack, and we’ve become a society moved away from eating whole foods from our own gardens to eat quick meals of cholesterol-laden, processed foods grown halfway around the world and processed beyond recognition.
Make sense? If so, it would reason that exercising more and eating less could reverse the trend. So why don’t we just do that?
Public campaigns – from Mrs. Obama’s to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s new fitness initiative – have (thus far) made little impact on our collective weights.
On Monday, Deal announced his SHAPE program to target childhood obesity in schools. The pilot programs in White, Hall, Gwinnett, Bibb and Lowndes counties will hopefully expand statewide if successful. Deal’s program measures strength, flexibility and endurance of students in P.E. classes and places kids in the “healthy fitness zone” or “needs improvement.” Next, data management programs help kids and parents chart improvement.
This program, developed by the father of the aerobic fitness movement, Dr. Ken Cooper, doesn’t reward specific athletic skills such as basketball or softball adeptness, nor does it promote a particular body image. It determines fitness. Program test results have shown slim children who are not physically fit and heavier kids who are.
As great as this program sounds, a couple of hours a week in gym class won’t knock off the extra weight. Kids need direction from their families and encouragement not only to be active but also to make healthy eating choices every day. Yes, it’s hard to walk past grocery store aisles filled with Yogos and Cap’n Crunch, loaded with sugar and oh so yummy. But the long-term effects of eating like this consistently can be devastating to our health and the health of our children.
If the obesity trend continues, we could be the first generation whose children have a shorter life expectancy than our own.
Americans eat 31 percent more calories today than we did 40 years ago and 15 more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.
Realistically what can we do? Obama’s Task Force recommends the following: Keep fresh fruit in a bowl within your child’s reach to grab as a quick snack; Take a walk with your family after dinner; Plan a menu for the week and get your children involved in planning and cooking; Turn off the TV during meals and share some family time.
In 2007 the National Football League began a program called Play 60, a national youth fitness campaign to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. As parents, we can remind our kids to “Play 60” each day.
For kids: Try new fruits and veggies, drink lots of water –– You’ll be amazed at what you find you like. Doing jumping jacks to break up TV time and getting outside are other good ideas. One fitness expert advised that parents need not make their kids exercise, just get them outdoors, and the “play” will burn plenty of calories –– even if kids don’t realize they are exercising.
While adults may diet for a variety of image, health, or beauty reasons. For your kids, the inspiration is not to fit into tight fitting pants, but to avoid things like diabetes, heart disease and a lifetime of preventable health disadvantages.