Marie Gahler, Senior Manager, Weight and Nutrition Education Services
Eight-year-olds with type 2 diabetes? Yes, the problem really is that bad. Currently, 8 percent of American children are obese. For these kids, the health consequences can be astronomical. Fifty percent of overweight kids will become obese adults by the time they are 30. Something has to done. I hope that President Obamas proclamation to make this month National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month will help us all take action to reverse this terrible health epidemic.
Overweight and obese children are at high risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and other frightening conditions. Up until now, these have been issues even adults didnt have to worry about until later in life. Childhood obesity is also associated with psychosocial problems, including higher risk for depression and suicide. Given the seriousness of health problems in obese children, the first step is to become aware of how damaging childhood obesity is. Parents need to understand and take action 90 percent of parents with obese kids dont seek professional help. Programs to treat overweight kids are also in short supply and can be controversial. We need to intervene early to help kids make healthy food choices and to get plenty of exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children.
This school year, federal regulations require school meal programs to not only offer fruits and vegetables but ensure that kids take them they cant just grab a piece of pizza but must also serve themselves at least ½ cup of fruits or vegetables. There are also new restrictions such as maximum calorie counts for protein, grain servings, and full meal totals. Planned activity time at school leaves a lot of room for improvement. Currently only 4% of elementary schools have daily physical activity as a scheduled part of the curriculum. That puts the burden on busy, working parents to make sure kids get their 60 minutes a day a challenge that many families struggle to meet.
As we all know, this is not an easy problem to fix and, in my opinion, will need to be addressed at every level by continued government action, school district decisions, and input from all adults who can influence how our children live. I am greatly saddened to hear that experts think our kids may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. We have to do something and do it soon. I, for one, am going to start by controlling what food I keep in the house - healthy choices in and processed junk food out. I can keep my kids away from the electronics and plan walks and pick up basketball games in the evenings -small steps but in the right direction. And I hope, as a nation, we can all come together to do whatever we can to fix this problem.
Marie Gahler has more than 25 years experience in treating obesity and weight related health behaviors and continues to be inspired by the efforts and success of those who strive to improve their health and weight. She currently manages the Accomplish Bariatric Nutrition Services program and develops curriculum for the Weight Talk® personal coaching program. Read more of Marie Gahler's blog posts.