Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Parents Recognize Childhood Obesity Issues

The Associated Press (AP) and Kids Online (KOL), the child focused section of America Online, recently polled 961 parents of children aged 6 to 17 about childhood obesity, Poll: Parents point to lack of exercise as the major factor in childhood obesity. The results were really just confirmation of the many reasons we already know are contributing to the problem of childhood obesity and showed that parents are aware of the problems.

Overall the reasons for obesity cited by parents included:
  • Lack of exercise
  • Easy access to junk food
  • Poor eating habits
  • Television commercials
  • Food packaging
  • School lunches
  • Cost of healthy food, especially for families with less than $25,000 annual income

Sadly the poll offered a laundry list of reasons with few solutions. After reviewing the responses, many clearly believe that lack of time is an issue. When exactly did we run out of time to do those things that are important?

Many will find the time to stand in line, idle parked in the "take away" spots or wait at the drive-thru window for dinner without realizing that such time could be spent preparing a healthy meal.

Think about that for a moment - how long do you wait for that "convenient" meal? Not only that, how much more are you going to pay for that meal?

As an example, if I call Outback Steakhouse to order dinner, I'm going to use up about 45-minutes of time to wait for that meal when I consider the time to call, order, drive to the restaurant, wait in the carry-out parking spot, have someone bring my food to me and then drive back home. A dinner for two adults will cost anywhere from $25 to $40. Not only have I burned through almost an hour I could have used to make the meal, I've spent more than twice what it would cost me to make it - and I could have made it with much better ingredients if I'd done it myself!

Now don't get me wrong here - I too enjoy the "take-out night" as much as anyone else. In fact, my husband and I have a take-out night a couple of times a month- it's a nice break from cooking each night. But, the problem I see is that we've been led to believe, through careful marketing over the years, that we simply don't have time anymore, or that endeavors such as cooking meals are a waste of our precious time.

I don't know about you, but the way I see it, we parents are given one opportunity to raise our children, once they're grown there is no going back to try again. The most precious gift any parent can give their child is time - time with them and time spent ensuring their health and well-being...and that includes ensuring they eat a healthful diet! Make the time!

One other problem cited in the survey was the lack of access to safe play space. I recently finished reading Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv - a book that addresses the problem of children increasingly disconnected from nature and free play outside.

Getting active doesn't have to mean joining a ball team. "One of the strongest correlates of how overall active a child is, is how much time they spend outdoors,'' said Dr. Nancy Krebs, who co-chairs an American Academy of Pediatrics' obesity panel. "Nature takes over from there.''

While many parents offer many reasons for less outdoor time, research shows that children need time outside and need free play, which bolsters creativity, learning, problem solving, critical thinking and decision making. Add to that, research shows that reducing time in front of the television, video game player and computer actually hinders weight gain in children!

Here again though we find some parents making excuses - "We as parents need to do more,'' said Elena Penson, a sales clerk from Lufkin, Texas, whose family makes a point of going to a park twice a week to play catch. "But when we get home, we're tired, too. We've gotten lazy.''

And again I contend as parents we must make the time and encourage - no insist - our children to play outside. As Louv points out in his book - free play in a natural setting is often better than organized play (which is still good).

You don't have to spend a lot of money to get your kids outside and active - the park, walking trails, even your own backyard, the school yard after hours or an empty lot (free of litter, of course) can provide space that allows free play where children can explore and learn about their home environment and create their own play.

Think you just don't have the time? Get together with friends and neighbors and start a play-group round-robin arrangement where parents trade-off time each day to bring together a group of children to play freely. If you bring together just three parents, you have just created three days of outdoor play for your child and committed to one day where you make the time for your child and two others! Not only are your children getting more time outside, you're also now part of building community for your children - they'll learn about cooperation, commitment and time management from you and your neighbors!

The bottom line is this - our children are facing an obesity epidemic that is already taking its toll on their health and will continue to if we - parents - do not do something about it. We can lament the problem all we want, but unless we step up and start to make the time to do something about it, the problem will only get worse. We cannot sit back and wait for someone else to "solve" the problem - wait and it will be too late.

Make the time now - you won't have anymore time later than you do now, so just do it!

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