The above is a map of childhood obesity rates across the country. As a whole, the percentage of obese children is almost 4 times as much as 40 years ago. Essentially, each generation is fatter than the one before it. It is projected by the year 2020, 50% of all children will be considered obese. This is a trend that must be stopped dead in its tracks.
There are a multitude of factors that contribute to this trend. The fact your average child spends 4 to 5 hours a day watching tv, using a computer, or playing video games is telling. A child gets home from school around 3, lounges around the home until dinner (which often consists of frozen, fried, or fast food options) and then goes to bed; only to repeat the routine the next day. This is a recipe for disaster. Ultimately the responsibility falls on the parents, as well as the schools.
Schools across America are cutting back on recess and P.E. classes to make room for more academic classroom time. While the idea is noble on paper, the school systems do not understand the magnitude of impact they have on these childrens’ health. If each child had 90 minutes of time every school day to be physically active and participate in sport, we would be seeing the exponential obesity growth rate slow down considerably. The creation of more sport leagues, that are perhaps more inclusive to all children would be another step in the right direction. Whatever the solution(s) is/are, the goal should be to get children moving.
Lack of exercise is one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is diet. We need to seriously consider what we are feeding these children. School lunches are a joke. A slice of saturated fat-laden pepperoni pizza, deep fried tater tots, and canned peaches in high fructose corn syrup is NOT a healthy lunch. (I distinctly remember this meal being served on “Pizza Fridays” at my elementary school). However, more often than not, something like this is what schools are serving almost all days of the week. Unfortunately, brown bag lunches typically aren’t better either. Lunchables’ mystery meat, crackers, and cheese kits were king of the lunchroom when I was in school. Sugary Capri Sun, Oreos, and “fruit” snacks were in almost every kids’ lunch bag. Sometimes a parent would make an attempt to insert a healthy option and send their kid to school with some carrot sticks. These would either a) end up in the trash, or b) be accompanied by a whole lot of high-fat ranch dressing. We are NOT doing all that we can to give our children the best meals possible.
What does all this mean? It means we need to take a hard look at the status quo for child exercise and diets. I’d be willing to bet schools are still serving the same menus they were 15 years ago when I was an elementary student. The problem now is that kids have things like the internet, Tivo, and Blu-ray players to take up their time. After school used to be a time to meet up with friends, play sports, and run around until dinner time. Advances in technology have really stifled the desire to do that for a lot of kids. The poor diet was made up for by physical activity; this is no longer the case. Childhood obesity is not going away until something is changed. Small changes in both diet and how children spend their time is paramount to slowing this run away train down.