Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Real World Wednesday

Childhood Obesity

After several conversations about childhoods involving running amuck and climbing trees vs. plopped in front of a video game console. After conversations about portion sizes. After conversations about working parents, the cost of food and the crunch for time. It's time for this discussion.

Childhood obesity is on the rise. And statistics show that obese children have a greater chance of facing an obese adulthood and the host of problems associated with carrying an unhealthy amount of weight.

As I see it, there are a number of things that contribute to childhood obesity.

1) Children playing video games instead of playing outside.
2) Both parents working and not having enough time to prepare healthy meals for their children.
3) The choices available in school cafeterias.

Now, each of these three factors have additional information that is necessary to finding a solution.

Video games - Kids aren't just playing games because they're fun. At least in my community, they're playing games because games inside are safer than the world outside. When neighborhoods aren't safe, kids can't just enjoy a pick-up game of basketball or a game of tag (yes, tag, or street hockey, or anything else anyone who enjoyed an outdoor childood played).

Parents working - I'm not against both parents working. I'm against both parents having to face hard economic situations that require that both parents work low-paying jobs with awful hours, jobs that leave parents weary and unable to provide a healthy meal. Additionally, unhealthy food is cheap. Parents struggling to pay rent (or a mortgage), buy clothes, pay for transportation, etc., may choose the dollar menu at McDonald's over a healthy meal. As an example, I bought groceries on Sunday afternoon. My purchases totaled over $30. While I did get a few things that would last over a few days, I mainly purchased the ingredients for one meal - hamburgers. The meal essentially fed four people, because T/WG took the burgers for to work forr two days. So, a meal for four people cost $30. It would certainly have been less expensive to get a cheap meal at El Pollo Loco or McDonald's.

School Cafeterias - Schools across the nation are working to improve the quality o food available in cafeterias. But, as in the paragraph above, the fact remains that unhealthy food is inexpensive. It's a lot easier to buy greasy french fries frozen and in bulk than it is to purchase fresh vegetables and get them cooked each day.

So, the reasons discussed. What can we do about it?

Video Games and Neighborhood Safety - Well, I talked about this a bit last week, but there's more to it. Kids need safe places to go after school, places that allow them to run around, play sports and stay active. If their neighborhoods aren't safe, and if that isn't changing anytime soon, there still needs to be somewhere for them to go (other than the library to check MySpace, sheesh!). If your community doesn't have after-school programs, maybe you can be an advocate for the development of just such a program. If you need to "sell" the program to community leaders or school principals, arm yourself with the 40 Developmental Assets .

Parents Working - Short of overhauling the entire social and economic systems in North America (see, I'm including our Canadian neighbors!), there's not much that can be done in the short term. But what about initiating nutritional education columns in local newspapers, in handouts at fast food restaurants (maybe someone can make use of those placemats on the trays at McDonald's), in whatever ways will get people to realize that coming up with healthy meals for their families is not as challenging as it may seem at first.

School Cafeterias - They're already at work on that! Eliminating soda machines is a step in the right direction!

Other Resources:
Meal Planning
Creative Recipes
Budgeting for a Healthy Diet

Support for After School Programs
Federal After School Program Site
After School Alliance
After School Program Fact Sheets

Information About Nutrition
Pediatrician's Guide
USDA Children's Nutrition Site
Dole's 5 A Day Site

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