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Childhood Obesity & Our Big Fast Food Health Problem



obesity and health problems








Childhood Obesity & Our Big Fast Food Health Problem

Childhood Obesity - there is one big fat epidemic sweeping our nation! A problem that accounts for almost 300,000 fatalities a year which, in the race for death, ranks second only to tobacco. Obesity has become the nation's number one health problem.

According to the Journal of American Medical Association, 30.5% of Americans are obese, an increase of 22.9% from just ten years earlier! Nearly two thirds of all adults are overweight and worse yet, 15% of children ages 6 to 19 have the same problem.

Parents play an important Role

Parents need to play an important role in preventing and reducing child and adolescent obesity by promoting healthy eating through wholesome family meals and encouraging physical activity. For children and adolescents, the recommended amount of physical activity for good health is at least 60 minutes of physical activity (age appropriate) from a variety of physical activities on all or most days of the week. The activity doesn't need to be completed in one continuous hour, but can be broken down into 15 minute segments. For adults, there should be at least 30 minutes of moderately-intense activity on at least five days of the week. Here also, the recommended 30 minutes can be accumulated in 10 minute segments. According to the Surgeon Generalís report, the regularity of activity is more important than the intensity. Activity need not be limited to special exercise sessions but can be woven into the fabric of routine activities. Inactive individuals improve their health by becoming more physically active even if they do not reach the recommended levels.

Nearly one in six adolescents ages 12 to 19 were overweight in the United States in 1999-2002, more than triple the rate in 1976-1980. Children ages 6 to 11 were nearly two and a half times as likely to be overweight in 1999-2002 as they were in 1976-1980. Today's children eat as much as triple the amount of snack foods their counterparts were consuming just 20 years ago. In addition, there has been a doubling in their soft drink intake in that same time period. Children who are overweight are at an increased risk of developing many health problems early on. Type 2 diabetes, which already seems to be at epidemic levels, cardiovascular problems, orthopedic abnormalities, and arthritis are on the rise. Being overweight can also negatively affect a child's social and psychological development. No one likes to be the odd person out. But if you are an overweight child/teen, chances are you will not only be the last one picked for the team, you will also find it harder to make friends. Research indicates that overweight children are more likely to be shut out socially than even children with other physical challenges. Being overweight has also been linked to the premature onset of puberty. The health threats posed by being an overweight child can be long lasting. Children and adolescents who are overweight are at risk for becoming overweight adults. And we have heard many times over the health problems associated with our "ever-growing" adult population.

What child doesn't love playing video games? These systems, however, are a curse. Many kids today are playing sports with their thumbs on the couch instead of playing in the backyard, on a court or a field, or in the schoolyard. Unfortunately, this has led to a decrease in the physical activity we all enjoyed when we were kids. While there is nothing wrong with playing a video game for a short period of time during the day (and let's face it, they're not bad babysitters!), the time should be monitored and limited.

What Can We Do?
So what can we as parents do to prevent our children from becoming overweight, or to help an overweight child lose the extra pounds and regain self-esteem? There are many things we can do to help, but it takes a willingness on our parts to truly help our children, no matter how difficult the process may be. We need to examine our physical activity levels and our eating habits. From there, you can devise a plan that will work for everyone in your family.


Physical education class in schools should emphasize the behavioral skills associated with developing an active lifestyle, such as how to become less sedentary. Emphasis should also be placed on physical activity being a contributing factor to lifelong overall good health, like eating and sleeping. However, PE classes usually focus on physical skills, like learning how to play a specific sport. But not all kids are into team sports, whether in PE class or as members of a team organized in the community. Nevertheless, these are the type of activities that both the school and community usually provide. So what can you do if your child doesn't want to join a team? 

While the options are more limited when a child doesn't want to join a team, there are a few out there. Check your community or local organizations for classes offered for children. Dance class, martial arts class, swimming class, and yoga for kids are a few possibilities. Some organizations even have special programs for overweight children. Research shows that most kids don't mind group activities/sports if they are among others who they feel comfortable with. Also, never overlook the good old bicycle. If you don't live in the most "biking-friendly" area, check for local bike clubs. They usually organize bike rides and know the best places to ride. It will take a commitment on your part, though, to make sure your child can attend the activity. 

Practice what you preach. If you're practicing healthy habits, it's a lot easier to convince children to do the same. Incorporate healthy activities into the time you spend with children. Take walks, ride bikes, go swimming, garden, throw a ball, or just play hide-and-seek outside. (Don't try this with teenagers, though- they will kill you). Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time together. 


We all seem to know how to eat healthy, but getting ourselves to follow through isn't always easy. But if you or your child/children are overweight, there are several topics that need to be addressed. First and foremost, you must FOLLOW THROUGH, no matter how difficult the process may be. Don't give in to whining- your kids' or your own!

Don't purchase "junk food". There is absolutely no nutritional value here. High levels of fat and sugar are in abundance in these products. Junk food isn't just limited to snack foods either. Make a conscious effort to buy only healthy foods for your kids. After all, if it's not there, they can't eat it. Before grocery shopping, make a list of what you will need, thinking out each meal for the week. Avoid sugary-sweet cereals at breakfast. If you think you are buying healthy with some of the "nutrition" bars, check the labels. Even food like yogurt is loaded with sugar. Buy the plain yogurt, and add some fresh fruit or sugar-free preserves to give it some great flavor without all the added sugar. If your kids like toast, bagels, or muffins for breakfast, once again, pay attention to the nutritional values. Encourage them to eat whole grain products. Limit the amount of butter, jelly, etc. that they add.

Don't reward children with food. Candy and snacks as a reward encourage bad habits. Find other ways to celebrate good behavior. 

Pack Your Child's Lunch
While not the most desirable of all activities for parents, pack your child's school lunch. (You can do this the night before and refrigerate). Even if the school cafeteria is attempting to incorporate more healthy selections (some actually are), the kids always manage to sniff out the unhealthy selections. A simple sandwich made on whole-grain bread, a piece of fruit, and a small cookie or two is all they need. Give them money for milk or pack some milk or water. Don't permit any soft drinks at lunch. By the time lunch rolls around during the school day, the kids are starving and will eat whatever you pack. They may look on in envy of their friends eating the cafeteria food- a bag of chips, ice cream, and a can of soda, but won't be able to join in if there is no lunch money involved.

Kids almost always come home from school with an appetite. There is nothing wrong with an "after-school snack" as long as it isn't garbage and they are not over-eating. After all, you will hopefully be making dinner, and the last thing you want to hear after cooking a meal is "I'm not very hungry." Avoid all chips, soft drinks, cookies, etc. for an after-school snack. Encourage a piece of toast, 1/2 a whole grain English muffin or bagel, some fruit, or raw veggies. There is nothing wrong with a little all-natural peanut butter on whole-grain bread either. If they are looking for something sweet, sugar-free jello is easy to prepare. Getting them to eat healthy snacks will probably be a battle, but if that is all that is available for them to snack on and they are hungry enough, they will eat something. If they turn their nose up at your selections, they aren't really that hungry anyway, and are eating out of habit.

Dinner should be a fun meal for all. After all, once the kids are school age, this is potentially the only meal the family eats together. Enjoy making any and all of the foods you want for dinner. The only caveat here is make sure you are practicing portion control. Unfortunately, we are in a "super size" mindset, and we tend to make individual portions that should feed three people. Learn to cut down on your portions, and this gives you the opportunity to eat whatever you want. If you can't seem to get yourself to do this, you will forever be eating broiled fish and chicken instead of a conservative portion of fettucine alfredo once in a while. It's all up to you.

There is absolutely no good reason to eat before you go to bed. Any eating after 7 PM is strongly discouraged by all in the health community. There is almost no opportunity to "burn off" any unnecessary calories at this time of the day. If you have eaten a healthy dinner, you should be satisfied even at bedtime. Many people eat before they go to bed out of habit. A bad habit that needs to be broken. If you are among those who like a snack before you go to bed, ask yourself these questions first: "Am I REALLY hungry? Or am I just eating because I have always eaten at this time of the day?" Diabetics and others with health issues where eating before they go to bed is necessary of course need to follow doctor's orders.

We can all blame the fast food industry and the ease of prepackaged foods in the grocery store for our escalating weight. But the bottom line is no one is forcing you to eat fast food. It is your choice, and should be eaten only occasionally. Do not make it a routine or a habit. Prepackaged food in the food store- ditto. Check out the fat and sugar contents of most of these. It will make you cringe and reconsider whether the ease is worth the potential damage to your health.

Good nutrition and good eating habits must begin in the home. We need to control what we serve and stock our kitchens with. After all, when the kids are old enough to visit friends, drive, etc., we can't control what they are eating when not under our watchful eye. Take charge today of your family's nutritional health. They will thank you in the long run!

Fast food companies provide a convenience for those strapped for a quick meal to fit into their fast- paced lives. The solution is not found in prosecuting the restaurant chains but in better meal planning for families.  




    Childhood Obesity & Our Big Fast Food Health Problem