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Health, Nutrition & Fitness        < Previous        Next >


Walk With Me: Fighting Childhood Obesity


Q. Everybody's concerned about the nationwide obesity epidemic, especially among young children. It's alarming! What's to be done?


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that, over the past 20 years, the proportion of overweight children ages 6-11 has more than doubled, and the rate for adolescents ages 12-19 has tripled. The nation's children are fatter than ever, and one reason is that their role models - their parents - are more likely to be overweight and sedentary.


A sedentary lifestyle is a key reason for obesity at any age. Adults today don't realize how much LESS active they are than their parents and grandparents. Parental lack of activity has a big effect on children, whether you're aware of it or not. Even today's parents who diligently work out at health clubs during the day might be doing their children a disservice, because that healthy exercise is hidden from the kids' view. Children learn by doing, and they learn best when a parent does something with them.


So now's the time to begin an exercise program with your child.


Yes, you're tired after a long day of work, but you'll be less tired if you schedule in a half-hour a day of light exercise with your child. And getting outside for a half-hour instead of vegging out in front of the TV is always a good idea.


One fun way to get started is to purchase pedometers for the two of you that can measure steps taken and miles walked. Set a goal of, say, 7,500 steps a day. Challenge each other! Encourage each other! Chart progress and award prizes.


To make it even more enjoyable, go on a daily half-hour brisk walk with your child to ratchet up that step count.


Or go on "vacation" - you can "take a trip" to your favorite vacation spot by "walking" there, gradually, with your child. Here's how: tape a map up on a wall that shows the distance from your house to your destination. Then, every day as you walk, record your mileage toward that destination with a marker. If you walk two miles a day, and want to go to a place that is 50 miles away, how long will it take you to "walk" there? Tape a picture of it up on your wall with a map. Set deadlines and rewards.


If you can't carve out a half-hour a day to walk with your child, maybe you should take another look at your schedule. What's more important than walking and talking with your child? After all, getting fit is only half of the purpose here: getting close to your child is a deeper, richer goal.


Once you're actively involved in fighting obesity in your own child, pay attention to what may be going on at school to help on the nutrition front as well. Many middle schools and high schools, especially, like to sell candy and pop because they are profitable, but obviously, that's not a good idea for kids: it hampers their weight control efforts, makes many of them hyper, and can damage their dental health, too. So work with school officials to get rid of all that junk food from school property, including pop machines.


Another great idea is to start a walking club at your school. Get a teacher or two involved; start with the P.E. teacher. Kids can gather at the school 20 minutes before the bell rings, leave their backpacks in the cafeteria, and get out on the track or playground and walk. Light exercise in the morning is not only a great fitness start for the day and a great wiggle-controller for the classroom, but it gets those juices flowing for learning, too!


Homework: See for a medical perspective on childhood obesity.


By Susan Darst Williams Health 06 2008


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