Let’s take a moment to look at childhood obesity. Like it or not, the problem is there and it just keeps getting worse. My most recent inspiration to talk on this comes from an article in Parks and Rec Business Magazine in an article called, “A Park With a Pulse.” According to the article, “…the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for adolesents between the ages of 12 and 19 years old, and it has more than tripled for children ages 6-11 years old.”
When I was growing up, childhood obesity was a problem, but it was a managable one. Or, at least it seemed like it was managable to me. I grew up with a hand full of kids that had a weight problem. So how was my life different from theirs? Here is what I think kept me fit growing up:
- I was outside 99% of my early childhood. I played with my friends, hung out by myself, climbed trees…whatever it took to occupy my little imagination. I grew up in a house that was about 600 square feet, and there were 4 of us living there. For me, rain or shine, the house was too small and I wanted to be outside.
- When I was little, video games just started to hit the market. I learned on Intelevision, graduated to Atari, then to Nintendo. I played them, but I was one of those kids that would rather be outside than in front of the TV.
- I played every sport under the sun and was very active.
- I grew up with a disability. Since one of my 5 major senses was pretty much gone, it heightened all of my other ones. I loved the way the trees smelled in the fall, or when my dad cut the grass in the summer. I loved the bright colors of the flowers in the spring in the woods, or when the leaves would change in the fall. There was so much for me to experience outside even without my hearing.
My point is this…what do all 4 of these things have in common? I was outside all the time! I was constantly running around and staying active. Kids today don’t have that luxury. That is a sad statement, but it’s the truth. With our never ending recession, inflation keeps going up while jobs and pay keep going down. Parents work too much because they have no choice. The consequence of this is that kids have to fend for themselves. They have to feed themselves and keep themselves occupied. A child playing ourside without parental supervision is unheard of because of the fear of kidnapping, assault, or worse. The growing demand in schools to “keep up with the Joneses,” so to speak is forcing teachers and principals to cut recess times. Kids are sitting on their backsides more than they are active. From what I have seen, the vast majority of parents are doing what they can to keep their kids active. But lets be real…it’s just not enough in some cases.
I am a mother, a wife, and I have a pretty demanding career. My day consists of getting up, getting my daughter to daycare, and working 8-10 hours a day. Then I pick up my daughter from daycare, take her to whatever extracurricular she may have that day, then head home. That’s a good day. Some days also include extra stuff like grocery store, cleaning house, and Lord knows what else. Needless to say, I understand the demands of today’s parents. Stay at home parents are not the norm anymore. In situations where both parents of a child are under one roof, they are typically both working to stay afloat. In more cases, the child’s parents are not together and only one parent is taking care of the child full time. (Hats off to you single parents! I don’t know how you do it.) So taking all of this into account, what does that mean for the child? It means TV, video games, iPods, and general being lazy time. They’re just not forced to be as active as we used to be. Plus, parents are fixing whatever is “quick and easy” for dinner instead of nutrious, heathly meals. McDonalds here we come! It doesn’t make it right, it’s just how things are. I am guilty of this more often than I would like to admit.
Now I want to touch on how childhood obesity is also linked to bullying. Kids who are overweight are more likely to be bullied than kids who are not. According to an article called “Bullying, Bullycide, and Childhood Obesity,” by JoAnn Stevelos MS, MPH, “…in a recent national survery of overweight sixth graders, 24 percent of boys and 30 percent of girls experienced daily teasing, bullying, or rejection because of their size.” According to the same article, this number doubles in high school aged children. With the bullying problem coming front and center in recent months, and the childhood obesity rates on the rise, shouldn’t we do more as parents to make sure these thing are not happening to our kids? Shouldn’t we step up and say, “I am part of the problem…but I can also be part of the solution!?”
Ask yourself this, am I part of the problem or part of the solution? What am I doing to keep my kids healthy? As a busy parent, what can I do to make a difference? First and foremost, KEEP YOUR KIDS ACTIVE! I cannot stress that enough. Do I complain about my daughter having 3 different activities a week? Sometimes 2 in a day…Yes! I grumble about it. But I know that I am doing what I can to make sure she is getting at least one hour of strenuous exercise per day. More if I can help it. Find out what your child likes to do to stay active and get them into it. Sports, dance, gymnastics…whatever the case may be keep them busy.
Second, every house I have ever been to has a place where a child can grab a snack when they get hungry. Replace the “junk food” in this place with wholesome foods like fruit, whole grain snacks, nuts…anything that is not a million calories per serving. If you are unsure what to buy, do what I do and “Google it.” We are graced with a wealth of information at our fingertips. Throw out all of the snack cakes, chips, and other garbage that can get in the way of healthy eating. If your child is hungry, they will eat what is there. Let me also stress that if you have been allowing these bad eating habits, and you replace the bad stuff with good stuff, you may not get a positive reponse right away. Stick to your guns! Remember, sometimes its easier to be a friend than a parent, but in some instance we have to take the harder route to do what is best for our kids. Don’t give in to the tantrums. They will pass.
Third, take some time to look up healthier recipies and work toward learning to make them in quick and easy ways. I am one of the lucky parents that has a child that loves to eat veggies. However, my child is not the norm. Most kids will fight to eat anyting that is good for them. Find ways to hide the “good stuff” in what you are cooking. They will be none the wiser and you’ll be getting much needed fiber, vitamins, and minerals in their systems. Cut out the fast food as much as humanly possible. Am I saying to cut it out altogether? Absolutely not! Pizza every now and again isn’t a bad thing. Make it a treat for a Friday movie night or something.
Last, LIMIT SCREEN TIME! It’s easy for all of us to flip on a TV or hand our children a tablet to get some peace and quiet. Instead of doing this, if you live in a place where you can do this, make them go outside and play. Playing with their friends or by themselves in the great outdoors will help them nurture their imagination. It also helps them with other essential skills like motor planning, learning new things, and sensory experiences. It will help them connect with nature. Kids who have a connection to the world around them are less likely to be depressed or have behavior problems, and learn to respect the world around them. Again, I am not saying to take the screen time away altogether. Just limit it to a couple hours a day. If it is rainy and gross out, try to find a fun activity you can do together. It will help your child connect with you, learn something new, and have fun doing it.