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The Problem of Childhood Obesity: How You Can Be Part of the Solution

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The topic of childhood obesity is interesting to me, both personally and professionally.  My job is to help people create a healthier lifestyle, and I’m also the mother of three small children.  But I’ll be honest, when I see stories on the news about the latest obesity statistics, it’s easy to start tuning out all of the depressing facts and figures.  Mainstream media talks a lot about the problem (that’s become an epidemic), but not as much about the solution.  What can we start doing today, right now, in our own homes and communities to help turn this around?  What can we do to make sure the next generation isn’t the first one to have a shorter lifespan than their mothers and fathers?

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.  The COAM (Childhood Obesity Awareness Month) movement is designed to provide resources for parents, educators and communities to help improve the overall health of our children.  “More than 23 million children and teenagers (31.8 percent) ages two to 19 are overweight or obese, a statistic which health and medical experts say constitute an epidemic. Overweight or obese youngsters are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, psychological problems, bullying and more.”  The movement is led by the American College of Sports Medicine to educate people about the problem and also encourage preventative action.  The COAM website offers a free toolkit to help you get started.

So what’s the first step you can take to help combat the problem of childhood obesity?  I strongly believe that it starts at home.  We can create all kinds of programs in schools and in the community, but if healthy habits aren’t being established at home, then these programs won’t be successful.  Talk to your kids about healthy eating and the importance of being active.  I don’t talk to my kids about “diets” calorie-counting, but we talk about how healthy foods will help them become big and strong.   They don’t spend much time (if any) in front of the T.V.  I encourage them to go outside and play.  Activity and healthy eating are a normal part of our day.  If it’s not currently a normal part of yours, start slowly making changes to move things in a healthier direction. 

Still not sure how to begin?  Check out the 10 Commandments of Healthy Eating for Parents and Fun Family Fitness Ideas

What have you done to encourage healthy habits in your children?  Are there programs in your area that have been successful at tackling the problem of childhood obesity?

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I didn't have to encourage my boys to eat healthy. They ate healthy from the start and were very active as children. If they wanted to play a sport we encouraged it. They were outside all the time.

I totally agree with Oreonsassy1, government should not limit choices at school. Kids where I work are bringing their lunch more and what is packed? Junk food and soda from home!! So it's not school lunches making out kids fat!!! Report
Great read!! Wish every parent could read it and show their children the other paths available in life.
Good job!! Report
And @ dianahallock. I think that's great you stand in line and encourage the kids and then the kids have to take home what they don't eat so their parents know! I think that's a really creative idea. My schools did nothing like that.. I don't think we ven regularly had fruit...I usually brought my lunch though and my parents got lucky I loved fruit and veggies.
Is that like a district wide or state wide thing or is your school just doing that on their own?? Report
I love this article! I do not have children yet but I see so so many over weight children and it makes me sad and angry. Especially when I see them chowing down on a supersize fast food meal. I think schools should be part of the solution too but I needs to start at home. Schools and teachers can only do so much. I think more parents need to realize it is their responsibility to keep their kids fit. I mean yes let your kid be who they want to be but weight is more then that it's a health issue! I think many parents don't think of it like that. Personally I would not want my children to be over weight not just because of the health issues but because all the social and psychological struggles they will have to face in school. I would want my kids to feel good and confident about themselves. And I just think it would be horrible to watch them go through school being teased and feeling low especially knowing I could have made it different for them.
Like yesterday, I was so proud of this mom, her kids are begging and screaming for a snack from a vending machine. She explains to them that there is nothing but junk in the vending machine and she'll get them something to eat in a little bit. The kids beg and beg and beg and when I see most people give in and let them get their sugary fattening snack she sticks to her guns and says no. But just the way she was talking to them I could tell she really tries to get the kids to understand good nutrition and why it is important to stay healthy. I sadly don't see that a lot but I hope people wake up soon and we see more moms like this :) Report
They learn what we show them! Report
My parents very rarely played outside with us and never forced us to go outside. We had plenty of sweets available, including one glass of soda per day. We weren't obese. We did have three (yes, THREE) recesses at school each day--two 30 minute ones and one hour for lunch/go outside. We also didn't have three hours of homework per night. So yes, I do think there is a problem at school. Report
Reading this article makes me even more proud of the way my sister feeds her kids and teaches them to care about their bodies. I know she didn't learn that style from our parents! Maybe it was more of a lesson on what NOT to do with her kids... Report
Everyone who commented has great points. I have been overweight since around middle school (I'm now 20) and EVERY element counts. While the eating that made me obese was mostly due to emotional problems, I was overweight before that. I think a lot has to be said about the schools. In middle school all I remember having at lunch was frozen lemonade, mozzarella sticks, and cookies. There were plenty of days where I got a full, fairly balanced meal, but I don't remember my friends doing so very often. And all of that extra sugar and unhealthy fats really adds up. I was active, in competitive soccer and in PE everyday. But I didn't know at the time what a difference eating healthy food makes. My family ate pretty healthily, but we were never truly nutrition-conscious. EVERY element is important.
Use the extra effort to prepare healthy meals.
Teach your children how good healthy food and activity are for them.
Exercise with your family!
I think the government is not to blame, but they could be taking more responsibility here, especially as far as school meals go. Pizza sauce is NOT a vegetable. I love everything Michelle Obama is doing to fight childhood obesity.
Talk to your school to see if any changes could possibly be made to give students healthier choices.
Grocery shop with your children and have them help you choose and prepare meals from scratch using healthful whole foods!
Talk to your kids (especially girls) about loving their body and tell them how beautiful, strong, and smart they are EVERYDAY. Girls need to hear these things when they are young, and it will help them feel comfortable to talk to you about any concerns they have about their body. This could lessen psychological distress and even prevent an eating disorder for your children.
I'm not even breaking the surface of the issue, but those are just some of my thoughts.

My pediatrician was pleasantly surprised to see my daughter had not gained weight at our 6 month follow up (for high BMI). She said she never sees that. We had switched from whole to 2% milk, and stopped letting her get so many sweets and sugary drinks.

When I started tracking my food I was shocked at how much I didn't know about what has too many calories. Calories is not everything, and I don't intentionally limit her, but we talk about these things. She knows what I don't eat and why, and I think it helps.

Being active is also really important. I've seen some really good things from when they walk to school or have daily exercise at school. Report
As a school principal I stand at the cafeteria line and tell EVERY child, "take and eat a fruit AND a vegetable." Most of it ends in the trash. "Not sweet enough. Not salty enough. We want chips!" The best technique has been requiring students to take home what they don't eat so parents can hold kids accountable AND by encouraging parents to pack a healthy lunch. We also limit ALL school parties to four per year; Winter holiday, Chinese New Years, Valentines and End of Year. The first few years the parents were unhappy and wanted more parties but now, they really appreciate our efforts. Lastly, we planted a Heart Garden, a garden planted with foods to improve heart health! We dig, plant, harvest and cook from planter boxes outside! Our kids are getting healthy and having a great time outside. Report
Yes, it does start at home. The problem for me is at school. The teachers and even the principal bribe the kids with food for everything! The class with the most PTA membership sign ups get a free pizza party, Every class that passes the state exam gets a bag of milk chocolate candies to share! Yes, a bag of
milk chocolate, because some where along the line milk chocolate is allowed because it has milk in it! This is the
warped thinking of people these days. What happened to a
sticker, or special privileges to show encouragement for a job
well done? This is what I am battling. And it is not just once in
a while, it is several times a week. In the cafeteria, during lunch, they sell chips, cookies and ice cream. The children with money do not buy their cafeteria lunch, they buy the junk food. I have questioned this and was told the school district has this privilege to sell optional food. I cannot believe they do this. So yes it does start at home, but it has to continue out into the world. Children have to be taught at a young age to make better decisions for themselves, unfortunately other adults do not care. Report
There are so many factors contributing to childhood obesity that weren't even addressed here. The plastic packaging on foods leaches hormone disrupting chemicals into psuedo-healthy food, causing major issues. This isn't even taking into account the sugar, corn syrup and artificial ingredients added to foods which were once healthy. Has anyone looked at the label to a kid's yogurt lately? In my opinion, our best bet for healthy kids is to slow down our lives so we aren't living on convenience foods. Teach them how to cook from scratch with REAL food...stuff they can recognize out of a garden, food their bodies, and our bodies, can recognize and know what to do with. It's up to us to make the changes in our own lives and the lives of our kids because when it comes to business and government, the immediate almighty dollar will win out every time. Report
Yep. Starts at home; but a lot of parents don't understand that and it's easier for them to turn on the TV for the children and forget about them until they need them. Report
I agree it starts at home. My boys like to play video games and and restrict them and encourage them to pay outside. I enjoy outdoor activities like bike riding and inline skating with them. I do not believe it is up to the government to limit our children's choices at school, but use education to inform. Report