In alarming numbers, our kids are becoming a bunch of potato-chip munching couch potatoes who are vegetating into overweight grown-up couch potatoes. While the couch potato may be a trendy kind of creature, making for a charming stuffed toy, it isn’t the stuff of a healthy future. According to a Howard University study, obesity increased 54 percent among young children and 39 percent among teenagers in recent years.
Now, 15 percent of all young children and 20 percent of all adolescents are classified as obese, suggesting a rate of growth that could be termed epidemic. Obese, you understand, is not just a few additional pounds; it’s a lot of additional pounds. While we spend billions a year on diet books, pills, and diet centers – not to mention exercise video tapes, diet cola and running shoes – more of our children are growing up flabby.
They do not have to be grossly overweight to be sadly out of shape. The U.S. Public Health Service recently reported the results of a survey of children, ages 6-9 that showed: Only one-third of all early elementary schoolchildren take physical education daily, and the programs emphasize sports rather than exercise.
Less than 40 percent of parents exercise with their children each week and almost none of them know how to treat childhood obesity. This adds up to young children who are fatter than their counterparts two decades ago, don’t get the right kinds of exercise and spend more time watching television and surfing the Internet than engaging in physical activity.
Couch potatoes, right? What this means is a lot of bad habits being learned early in life that will take a lifetime to overcome. Eighty percent of obese children become obese adults, suffering both physical and psychological problems. (It isn’t easy to cope with overweight in a world that worships thin.)
Where do we go wrong with the kids and how to cure childhood obesity ? For one thing, we reward young children with food – sweets and other goodies – even when we know we are encouraging bad eating habits. Our busy lifestyles encourage convenience foods, snacks and fast food eaten on the run. When we aren’t eating on the run, we’re using food for socializing. We could set a better example, if we were so inclined. By taking a careful look at the family diet, we could eliminate foods too high in calories, fats and salt. This can be done without reducing ourselves to nuts, wild berries and Mother’s no-sodium rice cakes.
Childhood obesity treatment requires a concerted effort, however. When bad habits are ingrained from childhood, changing them can be real work. Encouraging children to be more active is much easier. It starts with a very simple, effortless one-hand exercise: Turning off the computer or television. Children need to be involved in play that requires physical exertion. They shouldn’t be allowed to be sedentary computer addicts to the risk of their physical health and well-being.
If you are concerned with how to treat childhood obesity, you must encourage aerobic exercise – walking, jumping rope, running, swimming. And not just in organized, group play. Unfortunately, with budget cuts, concerns about liability, and pressures on improving academics, school systems may be slighting physical education programs – or even plain ol’ recess.