Guest Blog by Carol Torgan, Ph.D., FACSM
School bus stops, food courts, video arcades – everywhere we look we see evidence of the often repeated stat that nearly one in three U.S. children and adolescents aged 2 through 19 years are overweight or obese.
In a recent briefing on childhood obesity held in Washington, D.C. to highlight a special issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs, numerous scary stats were presented.
A few of the gut-busting numbers include:
- The inflation-adjusted price of carbonated soft drinks decreased ~24% from 1985 to 2000, while the prices of fresh fruit and vegetables rose 39% (based on USDA data).
- Sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juice comprise 10-15% of the total calorie consumption of children and adolescents (ages 2-19).
- Less than one in ten Americans meet the levels of fruit and vegetable consumption recommended in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Children who have a TV in their bedroom or watch more than 2 hours of TV on average per day are more than 1.5 times likely to be overweight or obese. (This relationship holds when socioeconomic and other factors are adjusted for).
- Only 42% of children ages 6-11 years, and only 8% of adolescents’ ages 12-19 years, obtain the recommended 60 min/day of physical activity.
- A quarter of high school students do not meet recommended levels of physical activity (60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per day) on any day.
- For U.S. children ages 10-17, 35.0% have no access to recreation or community centers; 26.7% have no neighborhood access to sidewalks or walking paths; and 19.2% have no access to parks or playgrounds (as reported by their parents).
Action will be required at national, state and local levels in order to start tipping the scales in the right direction and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is a giant step forward. In addition, we can all take small steps every day, starting in our own homes.
Here are 7 simple tips (one for every day of the week) to foster happy, healthy kids:
- Lead. By example. You are a role model for your kids. If they see you plop on the couch, they will be inclined to recline as well. If they see you dance around the house, play tug-of-war with the dog, and dig about in the garden, they will be inclined to dance, tug and dig.
- Watch & Listen. What do your children enjoy doing? What activities do they talk about doing? (Ask them.) Encourage those activities and build on them.
- Share. What are your favorite childhood memories of play? Share them with your family and then break out the Slip ‘n Slide or hula-hoop, or break out the chalk for a game of hopscotch (great for balance for kids and adults).
- Sculpt. By providing your children with opportunities to move and create, you are sculpting their brains. Play fosters new neural connections and prunes existing ones. As kids sculpt play-doh and sand castles, they sculpt their futures.
- Think. Outside the box. Give a child an expensive gift and they promptly rip it open and…start playing with the gift paper and box. Skip expensive toys. Break out a few packets of seeds and let your child dig in the dirt and grow a pizza garden (tomatoes, peppers, oregano, basil), and grow to love the taste of sun ripened vegetables and fresh herbs.
- Meet. Safety is one of the major reasons parents are hesitant to let their children play outside. Organize a play-date that really is about play.
- Create. Opportunities. Don’t over-schedule your children or yourself. Leave open little windows of time – even if only for ten minutes – just to goof off and move around. Any activity is much, much better than nothing.
[Adapted, with permission, from the original blog posts Childhood Obesity By The (Big) Numbers which has an extensive list of obesity stats and references to all the numbers; and 7 Simple Tips to Grow Active, Playful Kids, from the Carol Torgan’s blog Kinetics.]
About the author
Dr. Carol Torgan is an award-winning health scientist, strategist, educator and consultant with over 15 years experience in public health and medicine. She received her Ph.D. in Kinesiology, and was a Research Associate and Assistant Research Professor in the Division of Cardiology at Duke University Medical Center’s Department of Medicine in North Carolina.
Carol continued her research career at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Bethesda, Md. She had the honor of training in the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics, whose laboratory chief was Nobel Laureate Marshall Nirenberg, discoverer of the genetic code. While at NIH, Carol traded in the lab bench for a lap top in order to translate scientific information to a broader audience. She then joined Revolution Health as senior content director, where she designed strategies to blend evidence-based information and Web 2.0 tactics into actionable content.
Dr. Torgan currently consults on a range of health-focused projects that include developing online interactive educational programs for teens; crafting evidence-based content for health professionals and patients; and advising on digital strategy and social media for federal government and not-for-profit organizations. She has been interviewed and quoted by numerous major media outlets, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, WebMD, Parade, Self, Medical News Today, Real Simple, Reuters, and USA Today. She served as a member of the NIH Speaker’s Bureau and is a media representative for the American College of Sports Medicine. She loves to explain science and provide actionable health information for both professional and general audiences, and is available for consulting as well as for keynotes and presentations at workshops and conferences. You can learn more and reach her at caroltorgan.com.
Childhood Obesity By The (Big) Numbers
7 simple tips to grow active, playful kids
As always, thank you for taking the time to read these blogs.
We would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts on overweight children? Why do you think childhood obesity is increasing at alarming rates? What are your ideas to help solve this major public health problem?
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Our younger Generations need to be taught the important of a healthy lifestyle. It is going to take the leadership of a the older generations to show them how. Leading by example is going to be very important.
Changes need to be made in our society. Obesity is placing a huge burden on society, I do strongly believe it can be reversed.