ADDRESSING THE CHILDHOOD OBESITY EPIDEMIC
- The number of overweight and obese children has doubled in the last twenty years
- The number of overweight teens has tripled
- Our sedentary lifestyle, easy access to large portions of high calorie, tempting foods and genetic factors are the causes of this alarming rise
The pain of being a fat child and the long-term health consequences associated with it are great. Our children are starting to have chronic diseases that were once only associated with adulthood-type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. And once you're fat, it's very difficult to become thin. Overweight children are likely to be overweight adults.
What do we do address the epidemic of childhood obesity among our children? It's going to take us all, but here are some suggestions:
Start with changes in small steps to ensure success. If you don't know where to start, call your local health department nutritionist or check out these web sites: www.kidshealth.org, www.nutritionforkids.com and www.fitness.gov.
- Provide healthier food choices to your family
- Encourage more exercise for your children, even if you have to start with baby steps.
- Buy more fruit and fewer cookies and chips the next time you go to the grocery store.
- Serve more ice water and fewer soft drinks.
- Don't be too strict because that can backfire.
- Support your child in finding something active and enjoyable to do regularly.
- Set some limits on television watching and computer time.
- Model a healthy lifestyle for your children. You'll be healthier and happier and so will they.
- Give a few of the lower fat, lower sugar snack foods a try for a week.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. You may find that your tastes change.
- Do something really radical and track what you eat for a few days and see if it resembles anything near the Food Guide Pyramid. And if it looks like the exploding pyramid, make some changes.
- Find some exercise that you like and do it often.
- And if you can't relate to the fact that these things will lower your chances of getting diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the future, realize that they help you look better, feel better, learn better and play sports better now.
- Make sure there are opportunities for children to move and play safely
- Make parks, playgrounds and gyms available to all children in your community
- And when you have community events, feed children foods that will nourish and "normalize" healthy eating.
- Encourage movement as part of the learning process. The latest research shows that we learn better when we exercise.
- Ask parents to bring in healthy snacks for class events.
- Resist the temptation to bribe kids with sweets and take recess away as punishment. The students you withhold recess from are probably the children who could most benefit from its calming after effects.
- Set the tone for a healthy nutrition and physical environment in your school. Let the whole staff know healthy students learn better.
- What's in your vending machines? Make sure there's some healthy stuff. Consider trying one of the new milk machines that are becoming popular in schools across the country.
- Become one of the leading edge schools that offer more physical activity opportunities to students.
SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS
- Set policies on what foods can be sold to your students in school. Is your community ready to pay the exorbitant interest rates in future health care costs on the revenues you're bringing in by selling junk food to your students today?
- Start developing and marketing more tasty, healthy products. As Deion Shelby, third grader from, Lexington, Kentucky, asked incredulously at a recent nutrition forum, "This might be a weird question, but why don't those companies just make some healthier stuff for kids to eat?" Develop and aggressively market some new, healthy products. America is ready and waiting for you.
If you have any suggestions, questions, or comments, please contact:
Anita Courtney, Registered Dietitian
Director of Health Promotion
Lexington Fayette County Health Department
650 Newtown Pike
Lexington, KY 40508