With four teenagers and two pre-teens in a family with several obese adults, childhood obesity was becoming a concern we, as an entire family, decided had to be dealt with head on. With limited adult supervision at times, it was becoming apparent this summer that our kids were becoming either couch potatoes or computer junkies. As a result, some were putting on unhealthy pounds and just generally doing nothing productive or worthwhile.
All six kids live in a small town with few summertime activities, limited transportation and little focus on childhood obesity in the schools or community. However, they all also live in a large farming community with plenty of opportunities for getting outdoors and into nature if time is taken to make the arrangements. That’s where I, the aunt, came in.
The initial goal was just to get each child into the outdoors and physically and mentally active for no less than an hour each day, including the weekends. When I approached a few rural friends for support and help with our plan to address childhood obesity in our family, it was amazing how many farmers and acreage dwellers were willing to participate. In fact, we had to pare down the number of volunteers from several to just seven – one for each day of the week.
I provided the transportation as we traveled every day to a different location where the kids spent time working, playing or just enjoying the outdoors and each other. Interestingly, what was supposed to be at least an hour of outdoor activity a day turned into much more because the farmers made it fun, and the kids were never bored.
Although some farm experiences involved physical labor such as unloading and stacking bales of hay and cleaning horse stalls and chicken pens, not all of what we called “our healthy time in a healthy place” was spent working. On one particular farm, the kids simply hiked the tree-covered hills each week, waded in the creek with bare feet and searched the rocky areas for Indian arrowheads. On another farm, the kids helped drench (de-worm) six goats, learned how to trim the bottom of the goats’ hooves and watched the sad reality of a goat euthanasia by the local vet. Asked by one farmer what riding his tractor around had to do with addressing childhood obesity, one of the kids blurted out that if she “had a choice between doing this and eating ice cream all afternoon, I’d rather be doing this.” Good answer.
Although the summer is not yet over, and there are more farm experiences to come, I am satisfied we have already done our part to address childhood obesity in our family. Without putting any emphasis on losing weight when our project began, not one of the kids gained a single pound, and two of the kids actually lost a few pounds. For growing kids, that’s a significant accomplishment and was well worth the time, energy and gasoline it took to get our kids outdoors and more physically and mentally active this summer.
Although school will be starting in a few weeks, the kids all want to continue a pared down version of our “healthy time in a healthy place” during the school year. I’m certainly willing to continue the project, and a couple of others have offered to provide transportation too.
We all know that childhood obesity is a national concern, and obesity increases the risk of several chronic diseases. But while the government and other powers that be look at the statistics and think about ways to prevent childhood obesity through federal laws and policies, I’m pleased to say that we, as a family, took that need out of the government’s hands and went to work on it ourselves – successfully and inexpensively.
The bottom line is to get our kids outdoors and into nature where they can physically and mentally recharge. The cost is minimal, and everyone benefits.