According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2004, 13.9% of children ages 2-5, 18.8% of children ages 6-11, and 17.4% of children ages 12-14 are overweight. These numbers are significantly up from 1970, when the numbers were no higher than 4.6% in any of the age groups (1). Recent estimates predict we are in for more of the same: expanding waistlines, decreasing ages.
What's up with this and, as or more important, what are we going to do about it?
Childhood obesity is an epidemic that is growing (pun intended) and rapidly becoming out of control. We as a nation are making poor food choices, eating more, moving less, and our kids are watching us and repeating the patterns.
Many of us also associate certain foods with comfort or love and, having the best intentions for our loved ones, may engage in less-than-ideal food practices in a well-intentioned but misdirected attempt to show affection, support or even to serve as celebration.
And we live in the age of technology. So much is available with a few keystrokes, sitting in front of the computer. The rest comes by delivery. Well, maybe not everything, but certainly a lot. And we're busy. With family life getting busier all the time, of course it seems much easier to head down to the fast food joint on the corner or just let the children fend for themselves, which typically does not involve them cooking a nice, healthy meal.
Even playtime has become sedentary with the multitude of video games getting more popular by the minute, the infinite selection of television stations increasing every day. And the busyness of our own lives, the parents, makes it consistently hard to fit exercise in, much less get our kids to do it too.
So here's the result: our children - really, our future - are sitting (and eating) too many hours out of the day. We should not allow this to happen. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. And guess what? So do we. Not only do we need this for our own health and sanity, we must do it for the sake of the kids. We need to strive to be more active role models of healthy habits by doing it ourselves first.
"How am I going to find that kind of time in the day to participate in and encourage physical activity?" Here's how: This is not all or nothing; it does not have to be 60 strenuous minutes all at one time. It can be short 10 minute spurts. Chase your kids around the basement, the house, wherever it is a safe place to run. Let them ride their bike(s) in the driveway and run or bike along with them. Take them to the park. There are so many options that not doing it isn't an option. Our children must be on the move, choosing activities that exercise the body and stimulate the brain. I look far and wide for those engaged in the mission.
Here are some warriors fighting the good fight:
Chicago's Namaste Charter School, with funding from Mars, Incorporated, has awarded 20 I Wish I Could grants to educators nationwide. Inspired by Namaste's groundbreaking curriculum, teachers from around the country submitted their ideas on how to educate students about healthy eating habits and the importance of physical activity.
Melissa Sherwood, a teacher from Frontier Elementary in Peoria, AZ, is taking her students on a Walk Around the World. While learning geography, they are also learning about fitness by wearing pedometers as they "travel" to different places and learn about different countries and the healthy foods of those countries.
Laurel Rosenberg, a kindergarten teacher from Bell Avenue School in Sacramento, CA, is teaching her kindergartners about healthy food by incorporating them into their ABC lessons. With each new letter the youngsters learn, they will be taught, and will taste, a healthy snack beginning with that letter. For example, they could get asparagus for A, cauliflower for C, and...you get the idea.
Hanah Barnard, a Pre-K At Risk teacher from Ben Franklin Elementary in Glen Ellyn, IL, has many students who are refugees from various third world countries. Many of these children have learned poor eating habits since they relocated to the United States. Ms. Barnard is teaching healthy habits by incorporating them into nutritional board games, interactive games, and by giving them the opportunity to taste many different healthy foods.
Terry Maki, a teacher at Waterford Village Elementary in Waterford, MI, is giving her students an amazing opportunity. Many of her students can not afford good, decent tennis shoes. She began a running club that teaches the basics to running, which includes good shoes, but also gives them a great physical activity to take part in. Through this club she will provide appropriate running shoes for each student in her class.
Another, unrelated organization is also making great strides in the battle: Girls On The Run is a national program for girls 8-13 years old. The mission of the organization is to ready girls for a healthy life through lessons of empowerment. The program includes training for a 3.1 mile run and is coupled with self-esteem building and inspiration workouts. Girls On The Run aims for positive social, spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental development fostered through the goal-setting of the training process and the accomplishment of the run itself.
Obesity is a big deal for both adults and children today. The numbers are real and on the rise. The time for action is now. These folks are making an impact; what's your plan?
Published On: February 19, 2008