Childhood Obesity: A Battle We all must Fight
Written by Neil O. Anderson, a Trainer and Director of External Relations at Fitness Together Medford. Neil may be reached at ftmedford.noa@gmail .com or at (781)395-3600
According to a recent report At present, obesity accounts for more than 300,000 deaths per year and the annual cost to society is estimated to be nearly $100 billion (NYU Child Study Center). If we do not do something about this quickly and effectively, these numbers will continue to rise to even greater levels. Some are calling this an epidemic and we are losing the battle to keep our kids healthy. This is a battle we all must fight. In the short term, many of these children and youth will suffer from issues such as low self-esteem, fatigue, and difficulties playing sports. These short term impacts are pale in comparison to the longer term problems that are associated with this national epidemic which include development of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type2 Diabetes.
First, it is important for us to understand some of the factors that have led us down this slippery slope. As both a fitness professional and a youth development specialist of 20 years, it is my belief that there exists no one answer. Many things are contributing to it. Our lifestyles have drastically changed within the past thirty years and these changes have accelerated in the 2000’s. Thirty years ago, children played for hours after school, had ample recess time at school, and participated readily in school physical education programs. Many families cooked and ate their meals at home. The technological revolution that has led us to a point where virtually every household has a computer and every individual has a cell phone was just beginning. Today, physical education programs are being cut, more families are choosing to eat out or to opt for pre-packaged meals, and children are spending more and more of their time in front of the television, the computer, or their cell phones. By some estimates, children and adolescents are spending an average of 7.5 hours daily in front of some type of entertainment media. The bottom line is this, children and adolescents are moving less while eating more. It is a recipe for disaster.
This statement begs the question what can we do? The national Let’sMove! Campaign an initiative of First Lady Obama is a good first step. “ aims to increase opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school and to create new opportunities for families to move together (letsmove.gov).” The strategy of this initiative is to engage families, schools, and communities in becoming a part of the solution. The website offers valuable tips and guides for virtually anyone who shares this concern to become involved from individuals and families, to businesses and community organizations, to elected officials and schools. Locally, at the municipal level, Medford, Somerville, Cambridge, and Everett have signed on to this campaign. They are among only 19 towns and cities in Massachusetts to do so and deserve credit for taking this positive first step.
This said, truly addressing this issue will never occur solely at a municipal, state, or federal level. At best, leadership at this level can result in opportunities such as changes in school food programs, creation of more open spaces and the development and promotion of physical activity and exercise programming, and greater community awareness about the need to live healthy lifestyles. Opportunity is the key word here though and opportunities are only valuable first if they exist and second if we choose to take advantage of them. How we choose to live our lives however can not be dictated to by policy or advocacy campaigns. True change will always begin with us as individuals.
The two most important steps anyone can take on an individual level are to get active and to pay attention to what we are putting into our bodies. It is recommended that adults have at least 30 minutes of exercise daily and children and adolescents one hour. If these bare minimums do not describe your current lifestyle, try to build them in to your daily schedules and insist that your children become more active. Learn more about how you can implement basic nutrition into your daily diets and begin by preparing more meals at home. Pack your lunches and eat more fresh foods (not pre-packaged foods). If you need help doing any of this, seek the support and advice of your physician, life coach, a nutritionist, or a personal trainer. While this advice or these services are not always free, the cost pales in comparison to the long term cost of maintaining a sedentary lifestyle in which we pay little attention to what we use to fuel our bodies. For many of us, especially if we are making a major lifestyle change for our children or ourselves, we will need this extra level of support.
Some final notes, as a recent transplant to Medford, I love all of the opportunities that exist here. We have a wealth of open space, nearby markets, and gyms and fitness programs tailored to all abilities and lifestyles. In other words, we are wealthy with opportunity. During the few months I have lived here, I have had the chance to meet with neighbors, community and business leaders, and city officials. One thing that is clear is that a true sense of community exists here and that many individuals on all levels are concerned with making a difference. Childhood obesity is indeed an epidemic, but it need not be. I believe we have the tools, resources and community resolve to be a model community in this fight. I challenge each of us to become involved both on an individual and a community level. Join the battle in the fight against childhood obesity today! LET’S MOVE!
Fitness Tip of the Month:
Make small but consistent changes and sneak fitness into your life. Research shows that 30 minutes of walking a day reduces one’s risk of heart disease. If you do not have thirty minutes take three brisk 10 minute walks and the effect is the same. Consistency is the key here! This may not achieve great results in terms of weight loss or strength and flexibility gains, but simply incorporating 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your daily routine does have great benefit!
Nutrition Tip of the Month:
Eat plenty of whole grains. How can you ensure that what you buy at the grocery store is actually a whole grain? Look for words that signify whole grains in the ingredient list:
* The word "whole" listed before a grain such as "whole rye flour."
* The term "100% whole wheat."
* The words "berries" or "groats," such as "wheat berries" or "oat groats."
* The words "rolled oats" and "oatmeal."
* "Brown rice" and "wild rice."
For more great tips and suggestions, please visit http://fitnesstogether.com/medford-ma
ANNOUNCEMENT: Beginning in the month of March, Fitness Together Medford will offer free family nutrition seminars within the communities of Medford, Somerville, Malden, and Everett. Fitness Together Medford will additionally offer personal training for youth combined with a Family Nutrition Together program. Personal training programs will be available for children ages 10 and up. To schedule a seminar or receive additional information, please call or email Neil Anderson FT Medford’s Director of External Relations at 781-395-3600 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.