We want what’s best for our children.
Which is why we all should be paying attention to the childhood obesity epidemic in our country. More importantly, we all should be acting to reverse this troubling trend.
In 1980, U.S. children ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 19 held obesity rates of 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. By 2010, obesity rates in both age groups had increased to 18 percent, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Causes for the problem vary, but usually included are societal changes such as children spending more time in front of TVs, computers and gaming systems. The food we eat too – inexpensive fast food and soda, filled with empty calories and sold in large quantities – fit better into on-the-go lifestyles than taking time to cook a healthy meal.
It would seem to be a problem with a simple solution – eat healthier and increase physical activity, and children should be healthier.
But the problem is behavioral, not logical. And it’s anything but simple.
Besides having additional health problems such as diabetes or asthma, overweight children are more susceptible to bullying from their peers. Their unhealthy habits likely will continue into adulthood. There could be long-term mental health issues.
Thankfully, more agencies and organizations are realizing the need to act.
In McHenry County schools, ramped-up efforts in recent years include introducing the Coordinated Approach To Child Health program, or CATCH, which seeks to boost school education on healthy eating and exercise habits, and reform physical activities and cafeteria offerings. It’s in 26 county schools so far.
The Sage YMCA holds a Healthy Kids Day each year, combining fitness activities and healthy snacks with seminars on creating a healthy family. It also offers a health-minded summer camp and after-school programs.
Health-care systems such as Centegra hold programs like Kids in Motion, where children exercise and learn healthy habits with a personal trainer while their parents learn how to promote family fitness.
Obesity is a disease best treated by preventing it from happening at all. The efforts done so far locally are encouraging – but they are just the start. Communities must embrace the need to reverse this epidemic. The consequence of not doing so may best be summed up by this observation in a 2005 study in The New England Journal of Medicine: this generation of children could end up living shorter lives than their parents.
We want what’s best for our children. When it comes to their general health, we need to start showing it.