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CHILDREN-Getting Fatter Faster
By Dr. Hans Diehl and Dr. Aileen Ludington

                  American children are now getting fatter faster than ever. Five million youngsters aged 5 to 11 have serious weight problems, and the number of super-fat children has tripled over the past 25 years.

That's hard to believe. Isn't our culture more health-conscious now? Aren't fitness clubs booming?

                  Physical fitness is a trend among adults, not children. It's grown-ups who are out running, walking, jogging, and joining fitness clubs and aerobic classes. It's the older people who flock to wellness lectures and examine menus at restaurants for healthier and leaner foods.

But don't schools have health courses, physical education, and sports activities?

             Yes, but because of budget cuts, overcrowding, and teacher shortages, many schools have had to cut back on these pro­grams in recent years. In some cases they've eliminated physical education courses and require­ments altogether. Health classes are often unpopular with students, and relatively few youngsters qualify for team positions in school-sponsored sports.

  Isn’t obesity in children mostly inherited?

             Genes do play a role in a per­son's weight, but they aren't the whole answer. Environment plays a critically important role—as shown by the fact that the percentage of obese Americans has increased steadily over the past 50 years. Our gene pool can't change that fast!

             We now have an environment that supports obesity. Once upon a time children raced home from school to change clothes and go outside to play. They climbed trees, rode bicycles, skated, played games, and dribbled basketballs. Today's children average five to eight hours a day watching television! Our entire culture promotes less physi­cal activity and more eating.

Teen Weight Trends: Going the Wrong Way!

             By age group, 22 percent of kids under age 12 are overweight, but the total goes to 57 percent for teens 13 to 17.  Many parents do not perceive the problem, and more than 80 percent believe that their child is physically fit.
             Thousands of school-age children have serious weight problems that affect their health, their ability to perform, and their peer acceptance.
             To these children and their families, obesity is a curse. To do nothing is to sentence them to a possible lifetime of social misery, rejection, and a significantly higher risk of developing early major health problems.
             Monitor your child's emotional life. Some children eat when they feel nervous or unhappy; others when they are alone or neglected.  Problems may start during a divorce. Look for unmet emotional needs.   ABOVE ALL—make your kids feel loved, unconditionally.

What are the chances of a fat child becoming a fat adult?

About 80 percent of over­weight teenagers will remain overweight as adults. The marked increase in adolescent obesity will have serious con­sequences in the future. And dieting is not the answer. Some 80 percent of American girls begin a regular cycle of dieting by the time they are just 11 years old, according to William Rader, M.D.

Does obesity produce disease in childhood?

             Being overweight predis­poses a child to heart disease, gallstones, adult-onset dia­betes, hypertension, cancer, and full-blown obesity later in life. Obese children have more orthopedic problems and upper respiratory diseases. And that is only one side of the story. They often suffer major social and psychological problems. The rapid increase of serious depression, eating disorders, drug use, suicide, and violence among teenagers is frighten­ing.

What can be done about this growing problem?

             The major causes of obesity in children are the same as for adults—a sedentary lifestyle, TV viewing, the snack and soda habit, and the popularity and availability of highly processed and concentrated foods. Many major medical centers are developing weight-control programs for children that involve the whole family.
             Proper eating and lifestyle habits are a family affair, and a youngster especially needs the support of the family. Even when the rest of the family is not overweight every­one benefits from a healthier way of life.
Seven Secrets for Fat-proofing Your Child

            Clinical psychologists and pediatricians feel that nearly all obesity in children could be prevented if children were taught the following sensible basic habits early, before they have free access to food and become addicted to TV:

      • Three meals a day at regular times with lots of whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, and vegetables.

      • Control the cupboards—get rid of tempting junk foods. Offer fruit and fresh veggies for snacks.

      • Drink plenty of water. Limit sodas, juices, and other beverages.

      • At least an hour of active exercise daily, preferably outdoors.

      • Regular, quiet study and reading times to replace the hours spent watching TV.

      • Plenty of rest. Many children are chronically tired. Put them to bed early enough so they awaken naturally, in time for a healthy breakfast.

      • A wide range of interests—library visits, music lessons, arts and crafts, family outings, etc.

The Wise Man said:
                      "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6

Saving the child just might save the family.

Hours of television, Nintendo, the Internet, and the easy availability of high-calorie snacks are creating a generation of super-fat children. Their obesity predisposes them to a host of lifestyle related illnesses, and linked to serious psychological problems. Families can help children by adopting proper eating and lifestyle habits. Good health is a family affair.

Not-So-Little Jimmy

Jimmy is overweight for an 11-year-old. The heaviest child in his class, he is often teased by other children. Because he sees himself as slow and awkward, he resists participating in physical education and after-school sports programs. Instead Jimmy spends his afternoons at home watching television, playing video games, and snacking on pop, chips, and other goodies.

      June and George, Jimmy's parents, are learning how lifestyle affects health and well-being. They're making efforts to change their own lifestyle, and also want to help their son. After some discussion, they have come up with three strategies.

1. Lead by Example

      Since children learn by example, June and George committed themselves to being better role models. They decided that this means regular exercise and no snacking for either of them.

      Could you be a better role model for your children and others in your family? What are some specific things you could do?

2. Create a Supportive Home Environment

      To help Jimmy control his snacking, his par­ents stopped buying soft drinks, chips, and cookies. They replaced these high-calorie temptations with good old-fashioned fruit and vegetables. Television watching video games were also limited.

     Our environment strongly influences we eat and how we live. Does your environment help you achieve your lifestyle goals? What could you do to make it better?


  3. Involve Family Members

      Jimmy was not silent as his life rearranged, but his howls of protest were tempered by including him in the process. June and George explained the reasons for changes. They also listened attentively to Jimmy's concerns. Together the three of them chose new recipes to try. In the evening Jimmy rode his bike while his parents or jogged. The changes were difficult at first but after a time they became routine, eventually they actually became fun.

      People tend to resist changes in those close to them. By explaining why you are making changes and enlisting the aid of others, you can turn resistance into support. How could you involve your children in the lifestyle changes you are making?

Your Challenge:
Use the ideas you came up with in this unit to make your home a place in which good eating habits can flourish. Involve your family in the changes.

HEALTH POWER, Health by Choice, Not Chance
By Hans Diehl, DrHSc, MPH and Aileen Ludington, MD
Review and Herald, Hagerstown MD 2005