Obesity in Kids: Healthy Snacks Out of Sight, Inactivity, Free Play, Budget Cut

Dr. Jeffrey Heit Health Guide
  • Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past several years, you are well aware that there is an obesity epidemic in our country. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the obesity epidemic is the prevalence of obesity in children. Studies have shown that childhood obesity has been linked to adult onset diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The obvious question is "why is this happening?"


    Like most issues, there are many factors. First, kids today have much easier access to junk food than in previous years. The ubiquitous vending machines we all see at numerous locations, including schools of all places, are difficult for most of us, let alone kids, to resist. A typical pre-teen will think nothing of downing a 200 calorie bag of potato chips. Moreover, vending machines are stocked with what sells. Try finding a healthy snack such as dried fruit or naturally sweetened whole grain snacks- it's not easy. If those snacks are in the machine they're probably at the very top or bottom- out of the child's sight lines- couple that with the availability of sugary soft drinks in vending machines and the stage is set for a lot of unnecessary caloric intake.

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    Secondly, our kids are spending a lot more time participating in sedentary activities. Not only is cable television capable of keeping kids entertained with 24/7 programming, but internet surfing, Face book, and My Space, as well as Instant Messaging can keep our kids sitting on their butts in front of a computer screen for a good part of the day. None of that bodes well for burning the calories consumed from the vending machines mentioned earlier.  


    But wait- I hear all you soccer (and some hockey) moms protesting. "My kids have soccer games every weekend and practice a couple of times a week." It is true, that many kids now participate in organized sporting activities- more than they used to. However, those same kids may not participate in the more spontaneous, unorganized play that used to be more common place. Remember going outside, or to the school yard and getting a game of tag, hide and seek or red rover together? Unlike organized sports which amount to a few hours a week, those other games could occupy many more hours of a kids' typical week. In today's world where parents are much more vigilant about letting their kids out of doors unsupervised, the "free play" time kids used to love has all but dried up.


    Thirdly, any of you who have your kids in city public schools know that when budget cuts need to be made, the first thing to go is- you guessed it- physical education. Up until recently, local public schools in many districts of my own city had no physical education component. Therefore, not only are kids participating in far fewer physical activities than they used to, but they're not even being taught about it or encouraged to participate in our schools.


    There are more reasons for childhood obesity, but time and space are limiting a further discussion. Not all is hopeless, though. Recently, Sesame Street's famous Cookie Monster, has been portrayed as more of a fruits and veggie monster. Many schools are now forbidding the sale of soft drinks and high calorie snack foods within the school confines. However, it's going to take a lot more to reverse the trend. It is incumbent upon parents to get their kids on their feet more regularly. Limit television and computer time. Play ball with your children and teach them about good nutrition. Make regular pediatrician appointments and be sure your child's weight is measured, documented and discussed. It will probably go a long way to prevent the complications of obesity down the road.  


Published On: October 10, 2008