It’s not “cool” to be fat, but that has not prevented an obesity epidemic from occurring among American youth. Childhood obesity increased from 5 percent in 1964 to about 13 percent in 1994. Today, it is about 20 percent – and rising. Children spend an excessive amount of time watching television, using the computer, and playing video games. All these activities are partly to blame for this escalating rate. They spend up to five to six hours a day involved in these sedentary activities. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if they were sufficiently active at other times, but most of them aren’t.
To make matters worse, children are bombarded with well-crafted TV ads from fast-food chains and other purveyors of high-fat, high-sugar meals and snacks. A recent study reported that children ages two to six that watch television are more likely to choose food products advertised on TV than children who do not watch such commercials. These highly effective advertising campaigns, combined with a physically inactive life-style, have produced a generation of kids who are at high risk for obesity-associated medical conditions.
The major health threat is early development of Type II diabetes (adult onset), particularly in children with a family history of the disease. Doctors are reporting a surge in young adolescents developing Type II diabetes – which can lead to heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, limb amputations, and blindness. People who develop diabetes in adolescence face a diminished quality of life and shortened life span, particularly if the disease progresses untreated. It’s a scary prospect for our children but, in many cases, obesity and diabetes are preventable.
Parents should be involved in their kids daily physical activities. In today’s educational system, most schools offer PE (Physical Education) classes that allow kids to participate in physical activities and help them be more active. They also allow them to interact with their classmates on another level. However, these PE classes are not enough to help with their daily activity allowance. Many of these classes have been cut or reduced in recent years because of a lack of funding.
Physical education should be a top priority; after-school extra-curricular activities and sports are also vital. Children must develop a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, as well as a healthy diet. Parents need to set limits on the time their children are engaged in passive activities. Pediatricians recommend restricting children to one to two hours per day on TV and computers combined, unless, of course, they are Internet hackers – but there are always exceptions to the rule.
Fortunately, some schools now provide meals that are lower in fat and include healthy helpings of fruits and vegetables. Parental involvement remains the most important key to our children’s healthy diets. Programs to educate parents about nutrition are essential. Fast food should be banned from all schools. Period!
For many, the fast food industry is of great help. It offers parents an easy solution when dinner can’t be prepared due to time restrictions. With hectic daily schedules, it is becoming difficult for parents to cook healthy meals for their kids. Therefore, they seek the easy way out unwittingly poisoning their kids while eating at a fast food chain. Changing eating habits and lifestyles is not easy, but the health benefits for children are a wonderful payoff for parents willing to take on the task. Important things parents can do to curtail the obesity epidemic among children:
• Limit TV viewing and time on the computer to one to two hours per day.
• Encourage participation in physical activity and sports.
• Avoid eating in fast food chain.
• Provide nutritious, well-balanced, low-calorie, and low-fat meals.
• Limit the availability of high-fat and high-sugar snacks in your home.
• Make your kids healthy lunches to bring to school. If your kids do get peer pressure from their classmate because of their daily lunchbox, just tell your kids that they are now allergic to fast food and are restricted with the food they can eat.
These are a few possible ways to start making a difference in your kids’ health. You will need to focus on feeding them healthy meals and avoid unhealthy snacks. With today’s research and development in the food industry, there are so many alternative to snacks that are healthy and taste as good as the unhealthy ones. Chocolate, chips, meals on the go contain low fat, low cholesterol and low sugar and actually help you keep your diet without suffering too much, especially if you have a sweet tooth.
Obesity in Children! This is a true and frightening fact. We will need to face it soon or suffer the consequences. It is actually a vicious cycle. If parents are obese (overweight), kids have a tendency to follow the same trend. This cycle will have to be interrupted somewhere and education is the solution. Children need to be taught to develop good eating habits to avoid gaining excess weight. Check with your child’s doctor to confirm that his or her obesity isn’t due to genetics or some other medical problem (addressed in first few chapters of the book). Parents can help their child by being supportive. Explain why s/he has to lose weight. Gather family support for him/her. The parent must also be a role model and display good eating habits.
The child needs to grow vertically – not horizontally (due to a large waistline). Don’t put him (the use of masculine is only to simplify the text) on a strict diet. As mentioned in previous chapters about available diets, it is not recommended to put children through them. These are extreme diets with temporary results. Avoid yo-yo dieting, especially when your child is young. Try maintaining the Food Guide Pyramid of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and oils and vitamins and minerals. This is necessary for a balanced diet. Reduce the servings of fatty foods. Other foods are also to be consumed in moderation. Remove empty calories from junk food like sweets and snacks. Improvise to give him healthy snacks like milk, fruit or plain biscuits. Don’t eliminate sweets. He’ll feel miserable. Limit the amount to be consumed over a week. Slowly replace the sweets with dried fruit to wean their sweet tooth.
Don’t use food to reward a child. They may overeat unnecessarily. Keep a lock on the pantry. Leave healthy snacks readily available on the kitchen counter or fridge.
Teach a child to appreciate healthy meals by encouraging involvement in meal preparations. Don’t allow him to eat in front of the TV; this creates the bad habit of always eating whenever the television is on.
Teach your child what foods to buy when he’s eating outside the home. Kids love fast food. It’s common knowledge. However, by slowly reducing his intake of fast food, they will eventually eliminate it and gear towards healthy alternative, such as a veggie burger with vegetables and a salad. Children like variety in their menu. Parents can improvise and invent healthy meals. Emphasize the importance of vegetables, as kids tend to hate greens and stuff themselves with meats. Another trick is to make the child drink a glass of water or milk before the meal. He won’t feel so hungry since his stomach will be pre-filled with liquid so he will eat much less to get full.
Exercise together as a family. It promotes bonding, too. Get into some fun activities like roller-blading, biking, or sports. Initially the persuasion may be tough but once the ball starts rolling, there’s no stopping it.
Set realistic goals for your child to lose weight. Offer loads of praise for goals that are achieved. Keep track of your child’s weight and eating habits. Children need guidance to avoid sliding back.
All these efforts can greatly help your child with his/her health issues. Small steps are necessary for successful results. I guess most of you experienced these extreme diets and achieved only temporary results. We all learn from mistakes and teaching others how to avoid them can be of great help. It is going to be a long journey for you and your child but your battle against obesity is halfway won. However, in order to achieve this victory, we need to take and practice several steps, such as:
• Get the schools to participate in the education of our children. It is crucial to get them to participate in these programs since most of these schools allow unhealthy foods to enter their establishment.
• Healthy school lunches.
• Schools develop multi-year curriculum to train students in how to train themselves to be fit.
• Ban all soda machines from middle schools.
• More education and/or encouragement at schools (all levels, including pre-schools) to encourage parents to pack healthy snacks/lunch and children to eat healthier foods. For example, instead of rewarding children with candy, they should be using something else (either non-food or healthy food).
• Kids need to learn about food and health so they can make informed choices.
• Decrease high-fat/high-calorie foods offered in school cafeterias and vending machines; replace with fruit, yogurt, low-fat popcorn and other healthier snacks and foods.
• No more fast food in schools (except special events – one time per month).
• School Boards should agree to implement a plan to gradually increase meaningful physical activity in K-12 (with an emphasis in elementary schools) and STOP altogether offering/making available unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar foods on campus.
• Mandatory PE in each grade level.
The involvement of these schools doesn’t stop here. Small medical centers should be established to screen students (not for drugs, although sometimes, it can be necessary) for cholesterol and/or glucose. Below are other food strategies to be considered:
• Increase in screenings for diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease.
• Implementation of prevalence study of school children in county (3rd and 6th graders) as well as survey of nutrition options in schools (meals and vending).
• Measure BMIs (Body Mass Index) in county schools.
With all these ideas in mind, we can finally process the information mentioned above and start realizing how all communities, schools, cities and government can be involved in the eradication of this terrible disease.
• Programs to address cultural differences.
• City participation in nutrition and fitness.
• Strongly establish public health education in schools so we can influence nutritional and activity/exercise policy.
• Hope to actually see the food policy implemented.
• Tax unhealthy foods to provide subsidy for the sale of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
This chapter answered most of our questions about fighting the crisis of public health caused by obesity in our society. Raising public awareness of this terrible disease will enable us to attack the problem head on and obtain the results we want to see. The children in this country are our future. Keeping our children healthy should be a governmental priority and our governmental should act against corporate food giants that put processed food on children’s plates. With these solutions in mind we must both push local governments and encourage Congress to pass a bill that will require all schools and youth organizations to serve healthy food. The solution is here. Let’s start using it to the best of our capabilities.
Dan Amzallag Mission Possible: