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Obesity Still Top Concern for Kids

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Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 | CWK Producer

“It’s OK if we want to sit at home, and play video games, and eat all day, and do nothing. I mean, our society has kind of put us that way.”

– Jonathan, 16 years old

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It may sound ironic, but 40 companies that make our favorite junk foods are joining together to fight obesity, committing $20 million toward exercise awareness. Called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, these companies want all of us — especially children – to know that if we’re eating Oreos, macaroni and cheese and lots of holiday goodies, we had better burn more calories than they take in.

Fighting childhood obesity requires an attack on many fronts.

Is it the food they eat? Fifteen-year-old Tony says his diet was definitely unhealthy. “Chips, popcorn, soda, you name it. If it was there, I’d eat it,” he says.

Is it how much they eat? Eighteen-year-old Matt admits he used to go overboard. “I would eat whole bags of potato chips. … We’d have two-liter bottles of soda; I’d drink probably the whole two liters … in a night,” he says.

Is it lack of exercise? “It’s OK if we want to sit at home, and play video games, and eat all day, and do nothing. I mean, our society has kind of put us that way,” says Jonathan, 16.

Or too much stress? Pediatric dietician Marilyn Tanner says, “It’s very common for kids – and adults – to use food as sort of a coping mechanism.”

The answer? It is all of these.

And according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, childhood obesity tops the list of concerns parents have for their children. But how can parents turn the tide?

Kathleen Zelman of the American Dietetic Association says: “Do it as a family. Kick them off the couch, get your exercise, stock your house with all kinds of healthy things and try to establish good eating habits, good healthful behaviors.”

Brenda Johnson, mother of an overweight child agrees. “Then it becomes a part of your lifestyle, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to change our lifestyle to not being sedentary, but being active and making better choices,” she says.

It isn’t easy. And television, cars and fast food don’t make it any easier, but making better choices means exercise and a healthy diet.

Fifteen-year-old Tony knows that it takes hard work to shed extra pounds. “I wish, wish, there was some kind of a magic pill you could take, but there isn’t. You just gotta struggle through it,” he says.

What We Need To Know

In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled for children between the ages of 2 and 5 and tripled for 6- to-11-year-olds. More than 15 percent of children between 6 and 19 are considered obese. Countering that trend, child advocates say, will require nothing less than a multi-pronged national effort.

The reasons for childhood obesity are complex and cannot be pigeonholed in a single or few causes. Among the reasons experts cite are:

  • Kids’ backpacks are too heavy for walking too school.
  • Children rely on school buses or family vehicles for daily transportation.
  • Parents are concerned for kids’ safety and no longer permit outside, unsupervised play.
  • More homework allows less time for play.
  • Many schools have stopped scheduling recess.
  • Toy vehicles of today are not kid-powered, but battery-powered.
  • Computer games stimulate sports, rather than kids actually playing the sport.
  • Kids often eat due to stress or boredom.

Today, less than 6 percent of high schools require juniors and seniors to take physical education. There is also an “enormous decrease” in the number of school playgrounds. And recess has disappeared in many elementary schools where principals, anxious about preparing students for high-stakes standardized tests, have deemed it “nonproductive.” Efforts are under way to reinstate physical education. Recommendations include a minimum of 150 minutes a week for elementary school students and 225 minutes for high school students.

For more than 14 million children, accounting for 25 percent of students between kindergarten and 12th grade, no parent is home after school. The child must take care of himself or herself. Many receive strict instructions from parents: Lock the door and don’t go outside. It’s a recipe for inactivity and an opportunity to snack. Only 11 percent of students (6.5 million) attend after-school programs, where they are likely to get a nutritious snack and take part in fitness activities.

Keeping a bowl of fresh fruit handy, talking a daily walk after dinner and talking to school leadership about creating a school health advisory council are some of the action plan items suggested by Let’s Move, a nationwide campaign to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity.

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