Sunday, August 5, 2012

Obesity Prevention...In Children

Today I’m going to talk about a topic that is very near and dear to my heart:  childhood obesity.  Actually, I like the preventative term of childhood nutrition better.  Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard all sorts of reports on the matter.  I’m going to be addressing some reasons why our children are getting bigger and how to reverse this or prevent this from happening to your child.
Kids have a special place in my heart.  I grew up babysitting.  I spent some of my high school years coaching/mentoring elementary school kids.  When I was just a child, I would line my stuffed animals up against a wall and sit in front of them “reading” a story and took special care panning the book in the appropriate way so each toy would have their chance to see the pictures.  My family had a portable whiteboard that I would use to teach my friends how to borrow in subtraction when I was in second grade.  Because of this, it wasn’t a shocker when I decided at a young age that if my singing career didn’t work out, I would become a teacher.  It was on my path to becoming a teacher that sparked my interest in children with weight problems.
I can see it in my mind like it was yesterday even though it was probably nine years ago.  I was working as a preschool teacher and it was summertime which meant we also had school-age children to watch over as well.  I loved the summers because my boss would give me free reign of learning activities to do with these kids.  Each day had a different fun activity and this particular even occurred on Water Day.  I was sitting in the shade with my friend and co-worker, Andy, while the older kids had their turn playing on the inflatable water slide.  Seeing all those kids lined up and waiting for their turn, I noticed something.  Out of the twenty kids we had waiting in line in their swimsuits, five of them were overweight.  That means that one out of four of those kids were most likely considered obese!  Now Andy was young and a little bit of an ass so his remarks about it were not worth repeating, but these kids broke my heart.  Beginning on that hot, summer day I started to become more aware of children’s nutrition and physical activity habits.
When I went back to college to finish my education degree, one of my final grades in my favorite class (Physical Education in the Elementary School) was to come up with a unit plan involving physical education since so many schools are cutting back on these programs.  I got special permission to come up with an after school program, something I had been toying around with in the back of my mind.  I had so much fun coming up with activities for this program that included a nutritional aspect where kids could make up their own after school snacks, a physical activity which contained a treasure hunt where kids would have been ALLOWED to run through the school (something generally forbidden so it would be fun for them), and a character building activity like anti-bullying or whatever.  I designed this program with not only intervention in mind, but prevention.  I whole-heartedly believe that the more aware the kids and the *ahem*parents are, the better we can combat this sad epidemic.
A big part of this ordeal is pre-packaged food.  I get it, it’s easy.  When a kid wants a snack, it’s convenient to hand them chips or fruit snacks.   It is the parents’ responsibility to know what is going into your child’s mouth.  When you look at labels, how many ingredients are on the list that you can’t even pronounce?  That’s usually a bad sign.  Food coloring has not been tested enough to see if it has any lasting effects.  Almost every packaged food has high fructose corn syrup which is a big no-no.  Don’t be fooled by the commercials saying that it’s okay because it comes from corn.  It’s processed so much that it has turned into a form of sugar that your body does not know how to handle.  There’s an uptick in cancer in the last twenty years and many professionals say that our lack of wholesome foods is a big part of it.   Would you look at the foods you give your children differently if you knew they caused cancer among other things?  Maybe this is taking it too far, but you wouldn’t willingly hand your children cigarettes, would you?  Why do we view processed food so differently?
 It’s understandable that you as a parent get sick of drinking nothing but water and milk so you introduce juices and soda to your kids.  The thing is, if your child has never had whatever sweet drink you’re giving them, they wouldn’t want it.  Now it is not realistic to say “my child will never drink juice or soda” because we all know that there are these people called relatives.  Haha!  100% fruit juices are not as bad as soda (obviously), but they are LOADED with sugar which means they are loaded with calories.  It’s kind of a nutritional rule of thumb for adults to not drink their calories, why would it be any different for kids?
Exercise (or lack thereof)
I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money.  When we were being frugal, cable tv just wasn’t going to happen.  I spent a majority of my childhood with only CBS.  That resulted in a lot of outside play.  I was fortunate enough to have a great dad who took me on bike rides, shot hoops with me, or took me to target practice with a .22 and .38. These days, every Christmas list is more likely to be asking for a Wii or Xbox rather than a new soccer ball.  Because of the wonderful invention of DVR, we can sit for hours on end and watch a whole series of a show.  And yes, I’m calling the kettle black on this one.  Ask my husband about my Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, Dawson’s Creek, and Vampire Diaries addictions.  We are so used to being visually stimulated at all times that most SUVs and mini vans come with DVD players.  Does it worry anyone else that most children can’t sit in a vehicle and entertain themselves for a ride across town?  And we wonder why more and more children are being diagnosed with ADHD…
A Solution?
Just like children need to be taught their ABCs, teach them early on about food.  Introduce a variety of fruits and veggies.  Teach them that cookies, cake, and ice cream are special occasion foods.  Same goes for soda if they happen to get a taste for it.  Remember that you are the parent and you want what’s best for your child in the long run.  If they cry and scream because they want something, you are doing nothing but teaching your child unfavorable habits by giving in.  Get outside with your kids.  Teach them that there is a whole big, interesting world out there.  Make television and video games a reward instead of a necessity.  Most importantly, stick to the rules boundaries that you give.
Who Am I, right?
Please know that I write these blogs for myself as much as anyone else who chooses to read it.  I am not a perfect parent and won’t ever be a perfect parent.  That’s just not possible in any situation.  I do want to say that as a teacher, I’ve learned a lot of parenting do’s and don’ts.  Right now all my teacher friends are nodding their head in agreeance.  I’ve learned a lot from my husband who is a pediatrician.  I have also done a lot of nutritional research.  Do I know quite a bit about this stuff?  For the most part.  Do I follow everything I’ve learned to a T?  No way!  One look at me and you could see that.  I’m human.  BUT I’m a human who wants to do anything I can to better my life, my family’s life, and the lives of others.
Here are some interesting facts on these subjects:
About drinks…
If you give your kids endless amounts of fruit snacks, this is for you…
Obesity Facts…
Are chicken nuggets actually bad?

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