When I was a child, I never thought twice about obesity. It simply was not an issue that I ever had to encounter. None of the children I knew ever experienced that problem, either. We were always up and out of the door at sunrise, ready to conquer the day, sure to not be seen by our parents again until the street lights came on. Armed with a bicycle, a basketball, and a football, we would travel miles for a good game, a water gun fight, or a rock war. When we thought about eating, we usually would stop at someone’s home and wolf down a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich before retreating back to our refuge, the streets.
As a result of our nomadic lifestyle, I can honestly say that I did not know any obese children. How could I? My life was so full of activity and adventure that every day, I was bound to lose more calories than I was putting into my body, and everyone who hung out with me exhibited the same mindset. Our parents assisted in this low calorie intake by limiting the amount of junk food that we were eating weekly. Going to a fast food restaurant was an event seen as a gift by my parents. Perhaps it was due to the income that my parent possessed that would not permit them to feed us what we thought we wanted, but we ate at McDonalds so infrequently that I never truly developed a love of their food, and can now avoid it thoroughly.
Unfortunately, that was then, and this is now. As the children of the 80’s grew up to be new millennium parents, we brought with us some truly bad habits, habits that we are now impressing upon our children. As a result, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years (Childhood Obesity – DASH/HealthyYouth). Obesity amongst children aged 6 to 11 increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 19.6 percent in 2008 (Childhood Obesity – DASH/HealthyYouth). The reason for this epidemic, in my eyes, is quite simple. Parents have allowed our bad habits to flourish, and in doing so, have regulated our children to a sedentary lifestyle.
According to Grabstats.com, the average video game player is 35 years old and has been playing for 13 years (Video Game Statistics, Industry Figures, and Information – GrabStats.com). That means that the generation that is now raising children grew up playing video games, and are now passing the trend on to their children. The problem with passing that love on is that the older video game player does not set the boundaries that their parents did. Since my mother and father did not play video games at all as children, the idea of allowing me and my brother to play video games all day was foreign to them. They would much rather had seen us running around outside for hours at a time, getting into fights and playing war. As a result, video game players in the 80’s and 90’s tended to feel like they were deprived of the time that they spent with their first true love, and like many children do when they are not given what they want as often as they want it, decided that when they had children, they would let them play video games as much as they wanted. Unfortunately, they kept that promise.
E! Science News.com did a study of time spent viewing television and playing video games by children in 2010. The average time spent per child was a staggering 4.26 hours a day (Study Finds TV Viewing, Video Game Play Contribute to Kids’ Attention Problems | E! Science News). A child goes to school for seven hours a day, five days a week. If they get out of school at 3:15 pm, and get home at 3:30 pm, that gives them roughly 2-3 hours of sunlight in the fall to go outside and play. Factor in an hour of homework, and that leaves them time from 4:30 pm until 6:30 pm to play with friends before it is time for dinner, bath, some time with the family and bed. But if the child plays video games, they get out of school and sit down in front of the television, and do not move until dinner is ready four hours later. If the only activity the child has outside is during a 20 minute recess at school, they are not burning enough calories to counteract the food that they have eaten that day. Especially if they are like the 33 percent of American children who eat fast food every day.
In 2003, CBS News reported that 1/3 of U.S. children aged 4 to 19 eat fast food every day. That amounts to six extra pounds per child per year and increases the risk of obesity (Fast Food Linked To Child Obesity – CBS News). When you eat fast food daily, but only go outside weekly, you are bound to be unable to eliminate the massive amount of fat that your body is taking in, which will lead to dramatic health issues. Dr. Gary Plotnick, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine was asked by the University of Maryland Medical Center paper if the results of a 30 day McDonald’s diet was surprising to him. He responded by stating the following:
‘…They should have expected those responses. We know that a high-fat meal has multiple effects. It increases a fat in the bloodstream called triglyceride. When the triglyceride levels are high, there may be acute detrimental effects on blood vessels that result. In addition, the metabolism of LDL, which is the bad cholesterol, is affected. That’s probably why, over time, the cholesterol went up (Effects of High Fat Meals).
As a child, I was unable to eat fast food on a consistent basis. Although both of my parents worked 8 hour shifts at their respective jobs, they made sure that our family was able to eat a home cooked meal the majority of the year. Every once in a while, we would go to a fast food restaurant and eat. It was looked upon as a gift, or an event akin to a birthday gift. When I asked my mother how much fast food we ate, she responded by saying, “Not much. I did not have the money to buy fast food, and it was easier to make a large pot of stew that lasted for the week than to go purchase fast food all the time. Plus, I did not like the greasy taste that it left in my mouth, and you and your brother would always seem different after you ate it. You two were whinier, and always seemed more tired. It was worth the extra time cooking to ensure that the two of you were not in my ear whining all day long, or sleeping all the time”(A Talk with Melna Jones).
Personally, I take no issue with my mom withholding fast food from my brother and me. It gave my body an opportunity to appreciate other foods, and it instilled a blueprint for my life that I now use with my own children. My wife and I allow our children to eat fast food two to four times a month. While that may be more than my mother did, we counteract that by ensuring that the other food that is prepared in our house is as healthy as possible. We cook with brown rice instead of white rice, and we utilize ground turkey meat in substitution of ground beef. We feel that this allows our children to eat a healthy, filling meal with the family. It also gives us a chance to talk with our children about any issues that they may be having at school, or in the neighborhood.
Stranger Danger. It is a term that got its start in 1963 according to the Idiom Dictionary. It was a statement that was used in various campaigns in the United States, and largely confused children into thinking that all people that they knew were safe. (Stranger Danger). As a child, I knew not to talk to strangers, but I was still allowed to travel the neighborhood, even the surrounding area, with my friends and without an adult present. As a child, it was a regular occurrence for my friends and me to leave our homes at 9:00 am, and not be seen again until 5:00 pm. I know that there was still a fear of kidnappings, child molesters and every other demon that parents fear now, but our parents still wanted us to enjoy life, so we were never truly told the terrifying truth about the outside world. We were advised to not talk to creepy looking adults, and to stick together. With those rules, we hit the streets, and none of us ever experienced any issues. But in the latter part of 1998, things began to change. Kidnappings and brutalization of children began to be reported almost daily on news shows such as CNN’s ‘Nancy Grace’. Shows such as ‘NBC Dateline: To Catch a Predator’ began to show on television, introducing people to hosts of sexual predators who would prey upon our children, if given the chance. A website was opened that would allow people to see how many sex offenders lived in their neighborhood, or within a radius of their neighborhood, and we all tuned in at least once, and were suitably horrified by the amount of molesters living so near to our precious children. As a result of this new information, we declared martial law on our children, and would not allow them to leave the front of our lawns without our supervision. Children would only be allowed to play in their backyards, or on their driveways. As a result of our vigilance, children in the neighborhood never met one another, and what used to be the number one exercise for a child, playing with friends, never came about, as children simply got tired of playing alone and went back inside the home. We as parents were happy, because our children were safe and where we could monitor them at all times, but without the friendships outside the home, children made friendships online in video games, or in chat rooms, and became enmeshed in relationships that do not require them to leave the home at all.
So what are the best steps to take to combat childhood obesity? The solutions are simple, but involve such a radical change of mind by adults that it is difficult to believe that they will be undertaken wholesale. The average parent will look at their child and tell others that their child is not obese, when, in fact, their child is overweight and often pressing into a dangerous level of obesity for a child. According to the Canadian Family Physician, in a study of 770 pairs of children and parents in 2007, in which 487 children and 406 parents participated in the study, 22 percent of parents wrongly classified their normal-weight children as underweight, 63 percent considered their overweight children to be normal weight, and 63 percent considered their obese children to be overweight. About 26 percent of parents of overweight children and 15 percent of parents of obese children were not concerned about their children’s weight (Are Parents Aware That Their Children Are Overweight or Obese?: Do They Care?).
We as parents need to realize that we have failed our children. As an adult, it is our jobs to guide our children’s lives in regards to everything, including the friends they hang out with, the amount of time they spend indoors, and what they eat. We have gotten into a mindset of wanting dual roles in our children’s lives, both being their friend and their parent. We need to cease that desire immediately, because what it leads to is a population where we are afraid to tell our children no, afraid that if we deny them the slightest treat, we will send them spiraling down a path that will lead to their destruction. By being afraid to fail them in one aspect, we are failing them in others. Our children have become accustomed to eating fast food when they want to, and as fast food restaurants have lowered their prices, we have become accustomed to stopping at those restaurants more often to speed up the amount of time we spend with our children on a nightly basis, so that we can spend more time doing what we want to do, whether that is playing video games or watching television. We need to tell our children that we are willing to turn off whatever our addiction may be, be it videogames or television, poker or talking on the phone, and we are going to spend time with them outdoors. Our children need to see us maintaining a healthy lifestyle that involves them, so that they will grow up willing to maintain a healthy lifestyle with their children.
We as parents need to realize that it is highly unlikely that our children will get kidnapped if they walk down the street, or go to a friend’s home. According to Mark Gado, only 100-130 cases of stranger abduction occur per year in the United States (Child Abduction, Analysis of This Crime and Major Cases — The Facts — Crime Library on TruTV.com.) Our children cannot be afraid to talk to strangers, or to exhibit outgoing personalities with strangers, because if we allow our children to become scared of the outside world, they will be unable to interact with strangers throughout their lives, and will instead continue to barricade themselves indoors, buttressed by online friends who they can interact with from a distance.
We as parents need to limit, if not eliminate completely, the intake of fast food by ourselves, and as a result, our children. It is widely acknowledged by groups such as KidsHealth magazine that the best way to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits is to be a role model by eating healthy foods with and without your children, and to involve your children in the planning and preparation of meals (Healthy Eating). If your children enjoy eating pizza, have a make your own pizza night with turkey sausage, low fat cheese, and wheat pizza crust. If they are asking for cheeseburgers and fries, peel the potatoes yourself, and bake them in the oven instead of frying them. Use ground chicken or turkey instead of beef, limit mayonnaise usage, and use wheat buns and low fat cheese. During the meal, be sure to compliment the chef for a magnificent job, and the children will eat the food with relish, and likely ask for more. Children follow our lead, and if we eat all the healthy things on our plate, children are likely to enjoy those foods as well. As a child, it was rare for me to encounter an obese child, and I never wondered why. It was just a part of my childhood that all the kids I knew were active thrill seekers. As an adult, however, it is rare for me to encounter a child that is a healthy weight, and I often wonder if that is because the children that I knew grew up to be overprotective helicopter parents, hovering over their kids at every moment, and stifling their growth. We as parents need to learn to embrace the ideologies of our parents, and intersperse them with our own. Only then can we truly combat and control childhood obesity.
“Are Parents Aware That Their Children Are Overweight or Obese?: Do They Care? — He and Evans 53 (9): 1493.” Canadian Family Physician. 9 Sept. 2007. Web. 17 July 2010.http://www.cfp.ca/cgi/content/full/53/9/1493.
“Childhood Obesity – DASH/HealthyYouth.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 20 Oct. 2008. Web. 17 July 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/obesity/.
Fruits, Eating. “Healthy Eating.” KidsHealth – the Web’s Most Visited Site about Children’s Health. Web. 18 July 2010. http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_fit/nutrition/habits.html.
Gado, Mark. “Child Abduction, Analysis of This Crime and Major Cases — The Facts — Crime Library on TruTV.com.” TruTV.com: Not Reality. Actuality. Web. 18 July 2010.
Holguin, Jaime. “Fast Food Linked To Child Obesity – CBS News.” Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News. 5 Jan. 2003. Web. 17 July 2010.
Murray, Michelle W. “Effects of High Fat Meals.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 11 May 2007. Web. 17 July 2010.
“Stranger Danger.” The Meanings and Origins of Sayings and Phrases | List of Sayings | English Sayings | Idiom Definitions | Idiom Examples | Idiom Origins | List of Idioms | Idiom Dictionary | Meaning of Idioms. Web. 17 July 2010.http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/stranger-danger.html.
“Study Finds TV Viewing, Video Game Play Contribute to Kids’ Attention Problems | E! Science News.” E! Science News | Latest Science News Articles. 6 July 2010. Web. 17 July 2010.http://esciencenews.com/articles/2010/07/06/study.finds.tv.viewing…..
“A Talk with Melna Jones.” Personal interview. 14 July 2010.
“Video Game Statistics, Industry Figures, and Information – GrabStats.com.” GrabStats.com – Directory of Industry Statistics, Facts, Figures, and Information. Web. 17 July 2010.
Rashanii is the host of Single Simulcast and Sin and Solace. He is also a husband and father of four. You can listen to his shows at http://www.singlesimulcast.com or on iTunes.