On the anniversary of her first year in Washington, First Lady Michelle Obama asked America's mayors to join her in a campaign to help reduce the dramatic rate of childhood obesity in America. Childhood obesity rates have risen dramatically over the past 30 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 19 percent of young people aged 6–11 years are obese, while more than 17 percent of 12 to 19 year olds are. The CDC estimates that the total cost of obesity in the United States reached $147 billion in a 2009 study.
While some cases of obesity may be caused by genetics or other factors, most are the result of modifiable behaviors such as overeating, poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that nearly 40 percent of calories consumed by children ages 2 to 18 were empty calories, the unhealthiest kind of calories. The research shows that these kids get 40 percent of their daily caloric intake from junk foods like soda, sugary fruit drinks, pizza, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and ice cream. That’s nearly half of their daily calories, or 800 calories a day based on a 2000-calorie diet. What is a triumph for the food industry — a business that has mastered the art of making people eat more and more nutritionally void food — is a tragedy for our nation’s children. [Courtesy of Kristin Wartman, Civil Eats, Oct 2010]
Child obesity could cause your child to have a shorter life expectancy than you do, according to a March 2005 report in the New England Journal of Medicine. That study claims that childhood obesity rates may cut life expectancy by two to five years—a decline not seen since the Great Depression. Child obesity rates have only increased in the years since the report.
According to a 2003 University of South Carolina study, children who are overweight are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance. Obese kids are also at a higher risk for asthma, liver inflammation, high LDL levels ("bad" cholesterol), and hypertension, according to the Obesity Society—all of which were once considered adult problems. These children are also more susceptible to heart disease and arthritis-related disabilities.
Childhood obesity can be prevented—and often solved—with lifestyle changes. A modified diet, increased physical activity and behavioral therapy can all help. Of course, the best bet against childhood obesity is prevention. Along with a balanced diet, one of your best defenses is to make sure that your child exercises every day.
Here are some of our tips to help you instill healthy eating habits in the kids in your life:
- Live the example. Eating is learned behavior. Kids eat what their parents eat. If you eat whole, nutritious foods and your kids see you eating them, they're more likely to do so as well. If they see you consistently rejecting broccoli and reaching instead for the french fries, they'll follow suit.
- Don't bring nutritionally void, fattening, unhealthy products into the house. If you don't want your kids to eat it, just don't buy it.
- Don't set junk food up as a reward or a consolation prize. Instead of giving your kids candy and ice cream sundaes to celebrate a good grade or to try and cheer them up when they're sad, offer them a fun experience like ice skating or hiking. Or how about a new book?
- Learn together that foods that are good for you can taste good, too. Sometimes it's just a simple matter of how you prepare that food! For instance, search Google for a recipe called the "Best Broccoli of Your Life." It really does live up to its name. (We've tested it!)
- Explain to your kids why most of the food you see advertised on T.V. is exactly the kind of food you should avoid eating. Teach them that they can and should learn to ignore the siren call of colorful advertising and packaging. In any given evening of watching T.V., we may see 58 commercials about fast food. But when was the last time you saw a commercial about eating salad or fruit? This is because the salad and fruit people can't afford to buy splashy ads for their products during prime time. (Check out author Michael Pollan's books for more on this topic—he writes about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment.)
Learn more—listen to our public service announcement, and browse through our resources. Visit the links below to learn more about what EarthShare’s member organizations are doing to promote active communities and make sure that all Americans have parks, playgrounds, trails and other open spaces for healthy and safe recreational opportunities.
- Michelle Obama's Let's Move!
- Mouse Potatoes: Health & Nutrition, Mobile Phone Marketing
- Children and Nature, Children & Nature Network
- The Importance of Physical Activity and Good Nutrition, Center for Disease Control
- The Health Benefits of Parks, The Trust for Public Land*
- Enjoy our National Parks, National Parks Conservancy
- Healthy Trails, Healthy People, New York Parks and Trails*
- Making Weight Loss a Family Affair, The Mayo Clinic
- Helping Your Overweight Child, Weight Control Information Network
- Local Farmers Markets, Local Harvest
* EarthShare member charity