In last week’s column, I offered fifteen parenting resolutions for the new year. This week, I’m making a prediction: 2011 will see the beginning of a revolution in what and where America’s children eat. Over the next decade, it will become more cool for a parent to have a slim child than a child who makes straight A’s.
The childhood obesity problem in this country is a disgrace. We have the best economy and the best health care system in the world and nearly one in five of our children ages 6 to 19 are obese. That’s up from approximately one in 20 in 1980. And consider that childhood obesity was pretty much a non-issue when I was a kid.
Being overweight during childhood and adolescence significantly increases a child’s risk of developing high cholesterol, hypertension, respiratory ailments, orthopedic problems, depression, and type 2 diabetes during his/her childhood years. Furthermore, begin obese in childhood greatly increases the likelihood the child will have serious weight-related health problems as an adult. Needless to say, the child’s estimated lifespan is much shorter than that of a child of normal weight. The hospital costs associated with childhood obesity are in the mega-millions.
The US Department of Health and Human Services says “the causes of childhood obesity are multi-factorial.” No they’re not. The reason so many of our children are obese is because they consume too much bad stuff and move too little. Their diets are high in bad carbohydrates (i.e., junk food) like French fries, sodas, and sweets, and low in fresh vegetables, fruits, and healthy sources of protein. They spend entirely too much time in front of televisions, video games, and computers and not enough time in physical activity. And make no mistake, the best physical activity for a child is free play. A child enrolled in an adult-micromanaged sport is not getting half the exercise kids got playing sandlot games in the 1950s and 60s, when childhood obesity was very rare.
In rare instances, a medical issue may precede childhood obesity, but the typical overweight kid has a lifestyle problem. As such, the solution is for parents to begin making their children’s weight a high priority. Yes, schools need to eliminate carbo-load lunches along with soda and snack machines, but in the final analysis, childhood obesity is going to be prevented and solved at home.
This is not rocket science. Eat at least ninety percent of your meals at home, around the table as opposed to in front of a television set. If that means taking your kids out of most after-school activities, do it! Most of them involve minimal activity anyway. Prepare meals that are heart-healthy. When your children are hungry between meals, give them apples, cheese, and raw vegetables. When they’re thirsty, direct them to the faucet.
Garden with your kids. Studies have shown that children who garden with their parents eat what they grow and have, as a consequence, healthier diets. They actually like vegetables! Gardening is also a source of great exercise.
Exercise with your children. Take daily walks and bicycle rides with your kids. Play catch. Throw Frisbees. Get a backyard trampoline. When they say they’re bored, point to the back door.
Don’t allow televisions, video game consoles, or computers in your children’s rooms, and restrict total screen time to no more than one hour per day. As screen time has increased for America’s kids, so has their weight.
Perhaps most important, find out what you should weigh, get there, and stay there. Having an overweight parent greatly increases a child’s chances of being overweight. Good health tends to run in families.
Join the next parenting revolution! Be a happier, healthier parent! Have happier, healthier kids!