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Families in Crisis; Food for Thought

April 21, 2010 2 comments

When we discuss the alarming rates of obesity in our children we are only talking about food. Right?

WRONG!

When we discuss obesity in our children we are talking about iPhones, computers, the internet, iPod / MP3 players, cell phones, lap tops, video games, movies, and televisions in bedrooms.

Obesity is about both parents working. It is about moms and dads depending on MacDonald’s, Burger King, and other fast food places that serve up quick meals that are artificially manipulated to appeal to the taste buds of their children. The calorie loaded nutrition-less food appeals to the lazy or dead tired side of our nature.

It is about school cafeterias who serve the dark edge of junk food to their students. It is about the money schools receive from vending machine operators. They are the suppliers of colas, candy, chips, and the vast assortment of empty calories to our children. It is about parental, teacher, administrator, complacency in the health of our children.

IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT FOOD! It is about the lack of exercise, play, friendship, and nature. It is about this generation’s sedentary, isolated, lonely life. The average young American now spends practically every waking minute, except for the time in school, using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The most disturbing fact in my mind is that millions of children have never planted a seed, walked through the woods, identified an insect, built a fort, fished in a stream, or sat in a field of tall grass or flowers. It is about an entire generation of children and the staggering divide between them and the outdoors.

I am reading a book by Richard Louv, “Last Child in the Woods”, which discusses the absence of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation which is directly linked to the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. Direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. He says, “We should explore ways in which to develop programs that bring children beside quiet streams, or on top of mountains, or in the middle of a forest where they may feel the peace within themselves.” Summer camps used to be about that, but they are now financially unreachable for many in this economy, so they stay at home in front of their TV’s or computers, eating pizza, and drinking colas.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

  1. We need to get our children outside and away from electronics. They need to meet their neighborhood friends. Neighborhood parents could help by planning events/games for the children – a parental commitment to their children’s health.
  2. We need to be able to provide affordable fun that is also an outdoor adventure for children. We have 391 National Parks with 84 million acres, in 49 states with 21,000 full-time employees, and 275 million annual visits. These are affordable places for children to have the great outdoor experience. The National Parks produced a document called, “National Parks Second Century Commission Committee Reports” and can be viewed at www.npca.org.
  3. There is a concerted effort on behalf of the government to address the physical activity of all children. The White House Press Secretary released a Memo on April 16, 2010 called, “A 21st Century Strategy for America’s Great Outdoors”.
  4. SCHOOL LUNCHES CALLED A NATIONAL SECURITY THREATAll branches of the military are seriously concerned about the inability of our future armed services to defend our country. A new report released Tuesday, April 20, 2010, states that more than 9 million young adults, or 27% of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to join the military. Retired Navy Rear Adm. James Barnett Jr. said, “When over a quarter of young adults are too fat to fight, we need to take notice.” He noted that national security in the year 2030 is “absolutely dependent” on reversing child obesity rates.
  5. Whatever happened to backyard gardens? Why can’t we plant neighborhood or community gardens where our children plant the seeds, harvest the garden, and help prepare the meals? Why can’t parents discuss nutrition with them as the seeds are planted and the garden harvested?

There is no greater thing we can do for our children and for the future of this country than to insure their good health, self esteem, and compassion for the earth. It begins at birth, in the home, with loving parents who rise above their own self interests and toss the baggage from their past to become exceptional humans. Parents are the only people who can make permanent changes in childhood obesity. The government can pour billions into programs, but if the parents are not committed the children will follow their lead and wallow in their fat.

Families in Crisis; Childhood Obesity (First the Statistics)

April 7, 2010 1 comment

The real story about childhood obesity revolves around an era/generation of immediate gratification. Think about standing in front of your microwave waiting for the 1 minute meal and saying, “Hurry”. Think about working on your computer, it crashes, requires a reboot, and you are saying “Hurry”. Think about driving to work on a busy, crowded street and risk getting one car length ahead because you are in a “Hurry”. What is it about our lives where we no longer care about ourselves, which results in our not caring about the welfare of our children?

Childhood Obesity is a serious weight, self esteem, health care cost, and physical productivity problem in America. Who is to be held accountable; the Fast Food industry, the Parents, the Teachers, the Schools, the Government, the Pediatricians, the Pharmaceutical companies?

Let us begin at the beginning. To make this very simple – it’s the Parents! They are the ones who get the kids started. They establish the patterns. They teach by example. Their children follow them like ducklings behind their mother. In America 32% of 2-7 years and 65% of 8-18 years have television in their bedrooms. Is this excessive sitting in front of a TV not the responsibility of the parents? It is your household, you make the rules! When a parent drives through Burger King or KFC for dinner every night the children accept this as being “The Way”. When a parent sits in front of a TV all night the children see this as “The Way”. Children are the reflection of their parents.

Research studies show that most eating and physical activity habits are exclusively established in childhood. Psychologists say that most of one’s lifelong habits and traits are established by the age of 12.  Excess body fat that is accumulated in a child persists throughout childhood and into adulthood. Further, childhood obesity studies reveal that 40% of obese children and 70% of obese adolescents become obese adults. Indeed, by the time an obese child turns six years old, his/her chance of becoming an obese adult is over 50%.

Let us also keep in the front of our minds the calorie loaded, nutrient absent food served in our public schools across America. Do not forget the vending machines with the Corporate colas, which are consumed in place of juice or milk, or the candy, donuts, cookies, chips, and other junk food that our ‘uneducated in nutrition’ children have at their disposal. Parents begin it and if they don’t serve it at home, the schools will stuff our children with calorie filled junk food because they don’t care; they are not their kids.

Some sobering statistics:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past three decades the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years. (“Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2002”; Oct. 6, 2004)
  • Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth more than tripled over two decades, rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-1999.  (“Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005,” Institute of Medicine.)
  • Nearly one-third of U.S. Children aged 4 to 19 eat fast food every day, resulting in approximately six extra pounds per year, per child. Fast food consumption has increased fivefold among children since 1970. (“Effects of Fast-Food Consumption on Energy Intake and Diet Quality Among Children in a National Household Survey,” Pediatrics, January 2004.)
  • For children born in the United States in 2000, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives is estimated to be about 30 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls. (“Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005,” Institute of Medicine.)
  • In a population-based sample, approximately 60 percent of obese children aged 5 to 10 years had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor, such as elevated total cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin or blood pressure, and 25 percent had two or more risk factors.  (“Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005,” Institute of Medicine.)

Sobering Minority Data:

  • Among boys, the highest prevalence of obesity is observed in Hispanics. Among girls, the highest prevalence is observed in African Americans. (“Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005,” Institute of Medicine.)
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Hispanic black (21 percent) and Mexican-American adolescents (23 percent) ages 12-19 were more likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic white adolescents (14 percent).  (“Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2002”; Oct. 6, 2004.)
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mexican-American children ages 6-11 were more likely to be overweight (22 percent) than non-Hispanic black children (20 percent) and non-Hispanic white children (14 percent).  (“Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2002”; Oct. 6, 2004.)

Sobering Healthcare Costs:

  • Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth more than tripled over two decades, rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-1999.  (“Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005,” Institute of Medicine.)
  • Obese individuals spend 36% more on health care costs and 77% more on medications per year than individuals of normal weight.
  • Lost productivity related to obesity among Americans ages 17 to 64 costs $3.9 billion a year.

I find it interesting as I listen nightly to the ongoing intense adult discussions about civil rights, the Constitution, and individual rights, that little is said about the rights of our children to have a health filled life and the looming catastrophe of the loss of our children.  Who speaks for them?

My next post is “Food for Thought”.

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