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Monday, April 16, 2012

Childhood Obesity by Sarah J. Miller (guest author)

Introduction:  In the nutrition class I teach, students are asked to respond to some questions concerning childhood obesity.  One of those students, Sarah J. Miller, has been asked to be a guest author on this blog site.  The questions on childhood obesity and her responses are below.
1.  Do you think childhood obesity is a problem? 
I believe that childhood obesity is a daunting problem that faces the U.S. today. It is a known fact that twice as many children are obese as they were thirty years ago. Our society has changed such as to encourage our children to stay inside and inactive, away from danger and firmly within the clutches of the mass media. A half an hour with Cartoon Network, Disney, or Nickelodeon will tell you that many of the advertisements being directed at our children today are for food products that are not in the least bit healthy.  And since more kids are staying inside with the television these days, advertisers are having an easier time of marketing their poisonous wares. The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity recently conducted a study on cereals marketed directly to children in the U.S. They found that overall, children’s cereals contained 85% more sugar and 60% more sodium than “adult” cereals, and most cereals were nutritionally offensive enough to be banned from advertising in the U.K., which imposes regulations on what food products can be advertised to children. Couple heavy advertising of unhealthy foods to children with a generally nutritionally uneducated American public, and you have a recipe for disaster on your hands- many parents simply don’t know what is healthy for their child and what isn’t, and when it comes to those critical grocery store decisions an uninformed parent is more likely to choose whatever food their little one is clamoring for the loudest.
2.   Do you think schools have a role to play in the prevention of overweight and obesity in children?  
Though schools should have a role to play in nutritional education, they cannot and never should take the place of a well-informed parent.  A school that can be bought and sold for a few candy bars and some sodas will never be part of the solution, nor will schools that offer pizza and hamburgers on every lunch line. Unfortunately a large part of the problem in our schools today, especially public schools, is lack of funds. Sodium-packed and fatty frozen foods are often the cheapest available, and a wealthy soda corporation willing to throw in a few dollars in exchange for a well-placed vending machine can sometimes not be ignored by a school struggling for cash. Also with increasing government movements placing strict emphasis on “core” subjects like Math, English, and History, many schools are being forced to cut physical education and health courses. This can assure those of us that are paying attention that our future generations will possess a somewhat lackluster nutrition IQ. This is why it is important that parents take it upon themselves to educate their children on healthy choices. While there should always be a healthy option available in public schools, we cannot guarantee that there always will be a healthy option, and until healthy food is universally available and marketed by schools everywhere it is important to educate our own children on this matter.
 3.   What can parents do to prevent their children from becoming overweight or obese?   If you have a child that is overweight or obese, what steps would you take to improve your child's BMI?  
Parents need to play a key part in reducing childhood obesity. The simplest thing to do is to start by encouraging more outdoor activities, and less time spent with “the idiot box”.  Parents can also begin to educate themselves on what is and isn’t healthy, and limit the unhealthy food in their own diet as well as their child’s. If a parent has an obese child, the first and most obvious step would be eliminating all the unhealthy food in the house, especially snack food that can pack on the extra pounds in those moments of idleness in front of the TV or computer. Enforcing food rules at home can lead to children making better choices at school, and even if it doesn’t at least the child will get nutritious food from one source.  A parent can also become an outdoor play partner, if only for a few minutes each day.  Any activity after a long day of sitting still at school can help, even if it’s just as simple as playing catch in the yard. By encouraging healthy habits, behavior, and eating parents can reduce their child’s BMI, and in return increase their self-esteem, confidence, and overalls sense of well-being. Parents can no longer afford to neglect their own bodies or nutritional education, as their children may end up paying the price in a lifetime of unhealthiness and unhappiness.  

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