Fight Childhood Obesity with a Lifestyle Transformation
Childhood obesity is becoming a critical health issue in the United States. This is the first generation of children who are not expected to live as long as their parents. It’s time to get serious about our lifestyles and what we’re doing to our children.
As I recently listened to an interview with Susan Okie, author of the newly published book, Fed Up, I was surprised by the simplicity of her recommendations to curb this growing problem. There are three reasons today’s children are more apt to be overweight: Number one, the options and availability of fast food and snack foods are enormous. Because it’s everywhere you look, you start to think it should occupy a commensurate percentage of your diet. Secondly, people are eating larger portions. A study was conducted comparing three-year olds with five-year olds. They were given an excessive portion of food (like macaroni and cheese, a favorite) at mealtime. Whereas the three-years olds ate only what their body needed, the five-year olds ate the amount on their plates. Children eat too much because they are given too much. Lastly, kids are much more sedentary today. Unlike my childhood, they can consume their days watching a buffet of programs on TV, playing video games, or instant messaging each other on the computer. However, children aren’t meant to live like hibernating bears, metabolism set on “sleep” in order to conserve calories.
Besides changing eating habits, Okie suggests a lifestyle transformation. Kids need to get active. Mostly, they need to play--inside the house and out. Get involved in organized groups such as Scouts, 4H, church groups, sports, play groups, art activities, dance. Ride bikes, play games with friends, read books, make paper airplanes, explore the woods, and so on. A recent study has shown that children who reduced their television consumption lost weight. Their calorie intake had not been restricted. These youngsters lost weight because they not only became more active, but they also snacked less.
Two groups of youngsters recently participated in programs at the museum. At a ceramic workshop for teens, the instructor asked the students why they had come. Several said it was because their parents made them. I kept an eye on those kids during the workshop, and (surprise, surprise) they had a great time. They were engrossed in the project and enjoyed the process of learning. Others like Anna Wiley wanted to attend the class. When asked why she had come, she said, “Because I like artsy things.” What else does Anna do in her free time? “I really enjoy thread work, and I like to read. I am also involved with 4-H and church activities.” Her cousin Katy was asked the same questions. She came because her dad thought it was an interesting project and a good way to learn a new interest and meet new friends. Katy found it very interesting. In her spare time Katy likes to read, play piano and do school work.
The second group of youngsters who came to the museum participated in a St. Patrick’s Day program. These were children from 4 to 12 years old. Michelle Doughty got involved because “Grandma Anne wanted to spend more time with me, and I thought it would be cool to learn about the Irish.” When asked if her parents ever make her do things, she said, “Yes, and I do what they want.” She assured us that doing what her parents’ want doesn’t really hurt that much. With her free time Michelle likes to play basketball, read, talk to her friends and play on the computer. Michelle is also involved in 4-H and church.
Parents are responsible for their children’s health and development. We cannot control most of the negative forces in this world, but we can reduce childhood obesity in our own homes. The solutions don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Play with your children. Take them on walks. Learn something together. Take up a hobby together such as arrowhead hunting, visiting state parks, swimming, and collecting stamps. Urge them to try new things like Michelle, Anne and Katy’s parents did. You are guaranteed to run into some conflict, but the results will be worth it. When your children are as old and wise as you are, they’ll thank you.