Childhood obesity is on the rise, and the number of kids dealing with weight-related health problems is higher than at any point in U.S. history. In addition to shockingly high rates of diabetes (1 in 3 students is expected to develop the disease), teenagers are starting to have heart problems that we associate with middle age.
Something needs to change, and it will take a joint effort between parents, schools, communities, and the kids themselves to help change these alarming trends and get the younger generation on a path toward smarter choices, healthier habits, and overall better lives.
There are many great organizations out there working to improve the situation of childhood obesity, and many ways of framing the problem. One way to see it is that there are three main components to battling childhood obesity: altering options, encouraging play, and informing families.
Plenty of kids can still go to a pop machine before school, during lunch, and after school. Thousands of families in low-income (or even mid-income) areas don’t have access to a store with fresh produce within a mile or two of their home. These two problems combine to create an environment where obesity is all but inevitable.
Healthy food organizations are working with school administrators, city planners, and food providers in countless communities to change this, and thus create environments where healthy eating is an easy choice to make.
Good food, in itself, will not reverse the trend toward childhood obesity. In addition to shifts in our food culture, kids are also being raised in another revolution: technology. Whereas the cliché of after-school activities used to be a game of pick-up baseball or tag, more and more students are heading home to sit in front of the computer or television for hours.
As adults, we focus on “working out” to keep our bodies in shape, but for kids it can still be more fun that that. Simply encouraging kids to play outside, run around, ride bikes, or play sports or casual games will make a huge difference in their risk for becoming obese. Offering school or community activities is a good place to start.
Perhaps most importantly of all is informing families (parents and kids alike) on how to make smart choices and how these choices will directly benefit them in the long term. Having access to food and activities is not the same as taking advantage of them. Informing parents and encouraging kids to make those healthy choices for themselves is the final and most essential step to combating childhood obesity.
We’ve been working with some great organizations to provide student folders that reinforce these messages and remind and encourage students to make healthy choices. When a student opens his or her desk to see the food pyramid or an exciting “Let’s Move!” picture every day, they’re much more likely to internalize and live up to the lessons they’re being taught, and to turn them into life habits, as well.