Commentary - Children's obesity: we're all responsible
February 20, 2009
American children are getting fat - and no one wants to accept the blame.
National Nutrition Month is a good time to do a little self examination. Maybe it's our parenting that is at fault.
I was digging through a box of old mementoes a few weeks ago and came upon a stack of class photographs from my grade school days. It was a long time ago, I admit, but childhood was childhood, even under the Eisenhower administration.
The class size was about the same as you would see today; the teachers looked about the way they would today; but the children in the pictures were different - they looked thin. Of the 30 or so classmates in each picture, only one or two looked a bit on the chunky side. Fat was definitely unusual.
Contrast that to what you see on any school playground now. From my unscientific observation of my son's classes as he was growing up, it seemed that a majority of the kids had a significant extra bulge or two, and many obviously suffered from what the doctors would call clinical obesity.
The experts agree, too. Childhood obesity is frequently cited as a major health concern. Overweight children usually grow into overweight adults. That might bode well for those investing in cardiac clinics, but it is certainly going to be a problem for everyone else.
But, why are our children getting fat' Everyone has a pile of answers at hand, but no one wants to accept part of the blame.
You know what I am talking about. You have heard it all.
They watch too much television. That might be true, but I was part of the first great TV generation, and we were the thin guys.
The Internet and computer games take up too much time. That is probably true, too. But I have read that gaming and computer time is usually a trade off with time in front of the television, so that doesn't seem to be the one, true cause.
I think the real reason is us - the parents.
Who stocks the refrigerators' We do. Back in the day, having a "bottle of pop" was a special treat. Now most households buy sodas by the case. It is a rare fridge that doesn't have a good supply chilled and waiting. And it is usually the kids who drink the stuff.
Fast food was another treat in the days of thin kids. I was recently told that families that eat two or more meals at fast food restaurants a week are almost guaranteed to have overweight children. How about you'
But the most important cause of overweight children, I think, is that parents don't make them play any more.
When adults want to lose weight, they are told to reduce the calorie intake and increase the calories burned - diet and exercise. It is no different for our children.
I grew up in Oregon, part of the rain belt. But my dad insisted I get outside every day. Many were the rainy Saturdays I was ordered outside to "get some fresh air." When I complained about the weather I was told to put on a rain jacket. My friends' dads were the same way. We didn't melt, and we usually ended up having fun.
In good weather we never considered staying indoors. We rode bikes for miles through the countryside. We played ball at the park. We roamed through the woods and fields outside town. We were busy and active - every day.
That's the way childhood ought to be.
But parents not only don't make their children get out of the house, they often won't let them head out and roam the way we did.
How did we get this way' The fears and distractions of today's parents are the subject for another commentary. But we need to change.
We owe it to our children to keep them from growing into the obese generation. We should take a hint from my dad - part of the "greatest generation" - and kick the kids outdoors to "get some fresh air."
They'll thank us when they grow up.
David W. Kuhns Sr. is editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.