There is good news regarding the child obesity epidemic in America; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that from 2008 to 2011, the number of obese, low-income preschoolers has dropped 19% in 19 of 43 states and territories. Only 3 of the 43 states and territories showed a slight increase in obesity. Virginia, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, Maine, Delaware, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and South Carolina did not participate in the study.
As positive as these results are, if we as a nation plan on continuing the fight against childhood obesity, much more effort is needed, starting with what we allow our children to consume. Children are only as healthy as their options; many kids are not given the choice to be healthy. A Happy Meal is easier and more economical for low-income parents to give their kids than skinless chicken breasts. While organic poultry and produce are certainly more costly, there are other options. Fruits and vegetables can be purchased in bulk in most parts of the country–farmer’s markets and Costco–at prices that are far from breaking the bank. Limiting the amount of fatty meals and sugary treats children eat may seem like a challenge for parents, but it boils down to presenting them with inexpensive, suitable alternatives. Replacing unhealthy foods with something nutritious and equally as delicious–say, watermelon instead of a candy bar or apple slices topped with low-sodium peanut butter instead of a Reese’s–takes extra effort but is beneficial to their health in the long run. It also develops healthy eating habits early on. According to the CDC, overweight preschoolers are 5 times as likely as children of a healthy weight to become obese as grownups.
Another way to tackle obesity in children is to make exercise an everyday activity. Unfortunately, video games have replaced playing outdoors for much of America’s youth; kids nowadays typically plop in front of their TVs or computers for an evening of electronic play after they get home from school. It is up to caretakers and parents to monitor their child’s activities to ensure physical fitness is incorporated into their daily routine. If families are uncomfortable with their child playing outside for safety reasons, the local gym or YMCA is a welcome alternative. Swimming, running, and dance classes won’t just help keep them fit; they’ll have fun socializing with other kids they wouldn’t normally get a chance to meet.
America is the land of fastness; we want our cars fast, we like our days to move fast, and we demand our food to be fast. We are unapologetically a nation of now. But when our children’s health is at stake, slowing down–ever so slightly–is important. Putting an emphasis on quality–what goes into their mouths and constitutes their free time–is essential. By making conscientious choices, we help limit the high cholesterol, asthma, and diabetes that could cloud their future.
Written By: Shamron Moore