Samara Serotkin, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist
Its no secret that obesity is a growing problem in the US. One group who are especially affected is our children. 17% of all adolescents and children in the US are overweight or obese, which is three times higher than in just one generation ago. Unfortunately, this number seems to be on the rise. Our children are starting out in life on the wrong foot when it comes to their health, and the consequences are enormous. Along with this extra weight comes increased risk for weight-related health issues, like diabetes, heart disease, and even premature death.
Lately the media has paid a great deal of attention to the role that schools can play in preventing and treating childhood obesity. Celebrities like Jamie Oliver have pushed the problem of food quality in school meals into mainstream media, which has helped to raise the publics awareness and given people ways to get involved to make changes. Michelle Obama created the popular Lets Move campaign, which targets childhood obesity in general, including specific components targeting schools. As I have become more aware of this problem, I have been appalled at some of the statistics I have learned. Did you know that the milk that children are served in schools, for example, can have lots of additives, including sugar? In fact, a child who drinks sweetened milk twice a day at school will consume up to eight pounds of added sugar a year just from that milk. Eight pounds is a huge amount of sugar and just from sweetened milk! In addition, there are concerns about corporate sponsorship from various junk food manufacturers in schools, as well as a reliance on processed foods and a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables being offered to our children.
You might think that a good solution would be for families to just make lunches for their children to bring to school. This isnt necessarily true, unfortunately. I was amazed recently to read a study that compared the quality of school-prepared lunches to lunches brought from home. The lunches prepared at home were actually nutritionally worse than those offered at school! The home-prepared lunches had less fruits, vegetables and dairy products than those offered at school. Plus, they tended to have more high-sugar/fat snacks and more high-sugar fruit drinks.
This study highlighted this common thread: when it comes to dealing with the childhood obesity epidemic, while we can find lots of places to place the blame from the internet to food manufactures to schools the real responsibility starts at home. We need to pay attention to what our children are eating and be positive examples to them with our own habits. Here are some ideas of some first steps we can take to help our children not become an obesity statistic:
- Involve your kids. - Get your children involved with food preparation. If they are more involved, they will probably be more invested in eating what they help prepare.
- Make the connection. - Talk to your children about where their food comes from. Try growing some vegetables or herbs or, if this isnt possible, take your kids to visit a farm so they can see where their food comes from.
- Lead by example. Let your children see you making the time to eat healthy foods. If your children see you munching on some carrots instead of cookies when you want a snack, they might be more likely to do the same.
- Get involved. Talk to your childs school about the kind of food they serve. See what you can do to help improve the quality of what is offered. You may also want to check out websites like www.jami