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How We Can Battle Obesity For America’s Children


There is no question that our weight has become a huge issue in the United States. (No pun intended!) The number of adults who are overweight is staggering, and the number of those who are obese is even more shocking.  When was the last time you noticed an overweight individual when you were out and about and couldn’t help but make a comment? We all do it. We make assumptions about people’s lifestyles and assume that we could do a better job of managing their weight than we can our own weight. Yes, I count me in this. I am not perfect, and I have found myself doing it on occasion, despite the fact that I, too, need to shed some pounds.

On a broader scale, we know there is a national problem going on and we tend to point the finger back at other adults and force them to take the blame; we accuse them of a poor diet and lack of exercise.  Forget all of that for a moment; let’s think about the innocent ones in our lives, the ones who are dragged into all this without their say-so. What about your children? Are they overweight? Are they inactive? Even if yours aren’t, on a national scale, our kids are far less fit than we were at the same age. In fact, statistically speaking, they are in bad shape.

The Difference Between Overweight And Obese

For the moment, let’s go back to adults, because in order to understand and then solve the problem in our kids, we first must understand the problem as it relates to grown ups. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines an “overweight” individual as anyone who has a BMI (body mass index) of between 25.0 percent and 29.9 percent.  Those who are obese are defined as having a BMI of 30.0 percent to 39.9 percent, and extreme or “morbid” obesity is anyone with a BMI of 40.0 percent and above. People who are overweight or obese are prone to a number of serious health problems, such as:

  • An increased risk of suffering from coronary heart disease
  • An increased likelihood of having high blood pressure (think stroke)
  • At a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes
  • A greater chance of developing gallstones and gallbladder disease
  • More likely to suffer from breathing problems and sleep apnea
  • At a higher risk of developing myriad different cancers

The health risks noted above affect both overweight and obese individuals, though the higher your BMI is, the greater you place yourself at risk of developing any of the above health conditions. (To calculate your BMI, click here.)

America: The World’s Most Obese Country

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, people who are living in the “developed” world are more obese than ever.  So where does America rank?  Get ready to wave your “We are number 1” foam finger, folks!  Yes, we are the most obese country in the world, outranking Mexico, Chile, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Not exactly a number one to be proud of, is it? I am not going to sugar coat this. We have an epidemic on our hands that is literally killing us. I have said it before. We lead the way in many areas, some of which we can be proud of, and others that are downright embarrassing and dangerous. Taking in the consequences of being overweight and obese, consider some other areas that the U.S. can wave its “We are number 1” foam finger:

  • The highest incidences of diabetes in the world
  • The highest rates of cancer
  • The highest rates of cardiovascular disease
  • The highest incidences of stroke, aneurysm, and heart attacks

Such claims aren’t too surprising given how many obese people are living in America.  Every year, US News and World Report tallies numbers of the obesity rates state by state. This means that, for example, 30.4% of the population of Texas is considered obese.

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Close to a third of the entire population of the top ten states are obese – not overweight, but actually obese.  This isn’t to say that the other states should be giving themselves a pat on the back, either.  Even the least “fat” state, Colorado, still has an obesity population of 20.7 percent, meaning that one-fifth of the people living in Colorado are obese.  While that’s significantly less than Mississippi’s 34.9 percent, it’s still not impressive.

Obese Adults Breeding Obese Children

Making things worse is that these numbers are spilling over into our children. The number of children who are not only overweight, but who are obese, in America is growing by the decade.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the number of children who are obese has tripled in the past thirty years:

  • In 1980, 7 percent of America’s six-to-eleven-year olds were obese
  • By 2008, that percentage of six-to-eleven-year olds had swelled to 20 percent
  • In 1980, only 5 percent of adolescents in the twelve-to-nineteen age range were considered obese
  • By 2008, that percentage of adolescents rose dramatically to 18 percent

The CDC also has reported that in 2008, more than one-third of both children and adolescents were obese.

And children are as much, or more, at risk for all the same diseases associated with obesity that adults are. Maybe kids aren’t going to die of a stroke at twelve, but by thirty-five or forty, when they should be in the prime of their lives, they will.

Why Are Our Kids Obese?

Like everything in life, this question has multiple answers. The biggest culprit is inactivity.  Although genetics can and do certainly play a role in one’s susceptibility to obesity, eating right and exercising enough can prevent it. I don’t know how old you are, but I am in my mid-forties. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. From the moment I finished my homework until the streetlight came on, I was outside playing. I grew up in New York City (yes, the big bad city), and despite living eleven floors up, my mom sent me outside to play. I played handball, I roller-skated, I played tackle football with the guys, and as I got older, I skateboarded in a park several blocks from home. I came home dirty and exhausted.

On the weekends, without a car, I walked with my mother several blocks away to the market to grocery shop for our family for the week. If staples were needed during the week, I was often delegated to go back to the market. We didn’t own a car. The more tired I was, the better I slept. I wasn’t what you’d call overweight. Of course, we were only allowed two hours of television a week, and we got up to change the channel.

For those of you who grew up in on farms, what did you do? Back in the day, you were put to work in the fields; you baled hay, you cleaned out barnyard stalls, you lifted things, you walked things back and forth in a wheelbarrow, and you did heavy manual labor. Your parents didn’t call it work or exercise; it was just the things that needed tending to on a farm, right? Maybe we can blame it on industrialization and complete automation of everything.

Nowadays, with the dawn of technology, kids can have all of their entertainment needs met right in front of a screen – something that doesn’t require them to barely even lift a finger.  Video games, computer games, smart phones, the television, and the Internet are all huge culprits in why our children are obese.

But that’s not all.  The diet of today in America is significantly different than a century ago, than even forty years ago.  We went from having a whole food diet that was reliant on farm-grown fruits and veggies, whole grains, and fresh protein to having foods that are high in preservatives, coloring, sugars, sodium, and a number of unhealthy fats.  These addictive substances are cheap (which is why parents buy the food and why food manufacturers add them) and are pleasing to an immature palate. Parents won’t have to fight so much with their children about finishing their chicken nuggets and fries as they did before when liver was dinner’s main course.

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What makes this childhood obesity epidemic so tragic is that children have very little control over their environment.  How they get around and the activities they do are determined by their parents.  What they eat is determined by what their parents buy.  How they entertain themselves is determined by what their parents provide.  How and when they exercise is often something that they model after their own parents’ example.  Children are the product of what their parents’ behaviors, and so they become the victim of their parents’ poor lifestyle choices and ultimately suffer the consequences.

It would be wonderful if I could just say, hey people, the solution is easy. Turn off the television and send your kids outside to play. Oh wait! If you live close to other houses, your nosey neighbor might have you arrested and child protective services will brand you a neglectful parent. I was appalled to read Nathan’s article about the growing number of parents who are being arrested for allowing their children to play outside. Shouldn’t we be applauding those parents for doing the right thing by their children, for not adding to the epidemic of childhood obesity? Why are they being arrested? That in no way helps the problem! With any hope, your kids are growing up on a farm, and this isn’t an issue.

How Can Our Children Shed The Weight?

The first step to helping your children shed the weight is twofold:

  1. Throw out anything in your home that contains preservatives and start encouraging your children to “live off the land.”  Plant a garden and encourage them to eat only what they grow.
  2. Start becoming more active, or including children in your day-to-day activities

Having the kids help out with every day chores is a great way to get them off the couch and on their feet.  Hay bailing, for example, can easily burn 400 calories an hour.  Cleaning out barn stalls can do the same.  Getting your kids out in the garden and pulling weeds – especially in their own vegetable garden – is another simple and satisfying way for kids to burn calories and learn how to grow their own food, an increasingly important skill in today’s world.  Some other ideas for helping our children stay fit include:

  • Cutting and chopping firewood
  • Scrubbing floors
  • Tending to all the needs of your livestock
  • Create a fitness trail in the woods with different exercise “stations” (i.e. one station is for jumping jacks, the next is for balance, the next is for sit ups, etc.) You can apply many of the methods I advocate in this article and modify it to be appropriate for your children.

You don’t have to live on a farm to help your children become more active though. Nurturing a child’s creativity will also go a long way in helping them shed that weight.  By getting them outside and encouraging them to explore and be curious about the world around them in a hands-on way, this will work wonders in exercising their body and their mind.  There are so many things that can’t be taught by watching the Discovery Channel and that can only be learned by going for a walk through the woods.

While the number of overweight and obese individuals continues to rise, this doesn’t mean that you and your family must fall prey to these statistics.  Be the societal change that you want to see, and don’t wait for the government to take action as so many others do.  Childhood obesity is worth fighting against, and eventually we as a nation can defeat it. But like prepping for the day when it all hits the fan, this mental switch from inactivity and poor eating habits has to come from you. It has never been more important, but right at this very moment, you are responsible for your children’s future. Will they emerge at a healthy weight and live a long life, or will they have diabetes and high blood pressure by twelve years old?

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