The Problem of Obesity

McDonald's patron, 2006.

Image via Wikipedia

While I don’t yet worry about my daughter being overweight (we’re struggling with the opposite problem, actually), an alarming number of children in America today are overweight or even obese.  An email from babycenter.com this morning linked to an article about how researchers are trying to determine if a particular strain of the cold virus can be linked to childhood obesity.

This really got my “knickers in a twist” as my grandmother would say, because I’m so tired of hearing about research wasting money.  I’ve heard all manner of ridiculous excuses for childhood obesity – vaccines,

Pancakes, eggs, sausage, and bacon.

Image via Wikipedia

medications, now a cold virus – but the truth is that many parents just don’t pay attention to what their children are eating. They have no problem handing their kids a bag of cookies or chips and a can of soda, plopping them in front of the television or a computer for what I call “electronic babysitting.”  Lunch

boxes these days contain more snack cakes than carrot sticks, and kids eat more cheese and meat than spinach and bread.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article about the role of recess in American classrooms.  Twenty years ago nearly 100 percent of schools provided recess to their students; ten years ago it had dropped to only 70 percent of schools.  Today, one in three children have absolutely no recess incorporated into their day at school.  That’s up to seven hours of sitting at a desk with no physical activity whatsoever (aside from physical education, which may or may not get blood pumping through those little veins).  Is book learning really so important that we have to cut play time to make more  room for it in our schedules?

Children in Khorixas, Namibia

Image via Wikipedia

A chapter in a book I read recently (“What to Expect the Toddler Years,” by Heidi Murkoff) made several points about how play time is really work time for babies and young children.  Whether they’re pushing a toy across the room, pulling blocks out of a box, feeding their doll a bottle or scribbling with a crayon, they’re learning.  Both gross and fine motor skills are best developed when the child is playing.  It’s not just down time – these kids’ brain synapses are firing at an unbelievable rate as they learn to imagine, figure out which shape fits in which opening of the box, and practice walking.

When I posted about my irritation on Facebook, a friend of mine pointed out that some people in America are just too poverty-stricken to be able to make healthy choices.  Being healthy, in truth, costs more money than making unhealthy choices.  It’s also far less convenient.  And if a parent has a choice between feeding their child inexpensive unhealthy food or not feeding them at all, they will choose the former.  Good point.

However, my main point still stands: Stop wasting money on the research and use those millions for

something important, such as helping those poverty-stricken families buy groceries, funding recess programs for inner-city schools with no room to build playgrounds, and continued health education for not only young people, but the adults who help those children learn good (or not-so-good) habits.

In today’s American culture, being healthy (and teaching children to be) is increasingly difficult, I won’t deny it.  But it is not impossible, and it IS incredibly important.  As one article below points out, the cost of being overweight is not only affecting individuals, it is starting to seriously impact the country’s economy as a whole, with an increased number of insurance claims and a growing number of overweight employees taking sick days or, even worse, medical leave, due to health issues rising from unhealthy lifestyles.

Though I’m not nearly as healthy as I could or should be, it is important to me to instill in my daughter (and any future children) the value that should be placed on living healthfully.  And as every day goes by, I’m understanding more and more that this means living it myself.

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