Thursday, August 25, 2011

'Is This On Your Back To School List?'

The back to school frenzy has officially started.  Folders, notebooks and pencils explode from store shelves.  Clothing racks are lined with the newest fall fashions so that your child can arrive at school on the first day with an outfit that is the envy of all the other kids.  In this mad rush to wind up summer and get the school year started, one important “back-to-school” aspect is forgotten…your child’s exercise and nutrition. 

In a recent study done by the Center For Disease Control (CDC), 17% (or 12.5 million) of children are obese.  That’s an alarming statistic.  Since 1980 Childhood Obesity has tripled.  Mayo Clinic lists Childhood Obesity as the number one concern for children and teens. Childhood Obesity leads to serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – all once considered exclusively adult diseases. Considering the fact that kids spend a minimum of 33% of their day at school and 32 million kids eat school lunch every day, I’d say that activity, exercise and nutrition should be a top concern for parents as they send their kids back to school. 

There are many aspects that contribute to Childhood Obesity.  More and more, life is sedentary – kids spend more time playing with electronic devices or watching TV than they do being active. Virtually all of a child’s free time is spent in front of one screen or another.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting the time children over two years of age spend in front of a screen to 1-2 hours a day. For children under two this time should be zero. The AAP also recommends that kids over two years of age get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.  The fact that more and more schools are eliminating PE doesn’t help this scenario.  One study showed that on average PE classes offered 3rd graders only 25 minutes of activity a week! That’s a far cry from 60 minutes per day.

Another aspect that contributes to Childhood Obesity is nutrition. Or maybe a better way to say it is the lack there of.  High sugar and high fat foods are marketed to kids.  Families are typically busier during the school year as well and resort to prepackaged meals or fast food, which are both laden with excess sugar, fat, sodium, and many dangerous additives.  Kids consume about 30-50% of their calories from school meal programs. These usually consist of many prepackaged foods as well.  This means that most of what children eat is NOT fresh. It’s processed. 

One final contributor to Childhood Obesity is the amount of time children have to eat their lunch at school.  Elementary kids have about 25 minutes for lunch; middle school and high school students have about 30 minutes.  That includes the time it takes them to go to the restroom, wash their hands, walk to the cafeteria, and stand in line for their meals.  Many students have only 10-15 minutes to eat.  Research shows that when people eat quickly, they consume more calories, enjoy the meal less, and feel hungrier sooner.  It seems that healthier countries such as France may have a bit of wisdom to letting children have two hours for lunch.  In recent years food service workers have been trying to make it easier for children to eat healthy foods.  Many parents do the same when packing lunches for their kids.  The problem is that it takes longer to eat healthy foods.  It takes more time to chew a whole apple or eat an entire salad than it does to eat pudding, chicken nuggets, or French Fries. 

So what’s a parent to do? First, you must lead by example.  Make a healthy lifestyle a whole family endeavor.  Let your kids help you prepare healthy meals, take them with you when you are grocery shopping, and teach them how to make good food choices.  Do physical activities together as a family; play games, go for bike rides, or go swimming.  The possibilities here are endless.  Eliminate junk food from your house, and don’t ever use food as a reward.  By making these few simple changes you and your entire family will be healthier.  When packing lunches for your kids make healthy food easy to eat; cut up veggies into bite size pieces, slice apples, and cut sandwiches into pieces.  This will allow your child to eat more healthy foods in the amount of time they have to eat lunch at school.  If your child has after school activities pack them healthy snacks such as nuts, fruit, light string cheese, or Greek Yogurt.  That way they don’t resort to a candy bar or a bag of chips when they are hungry. 

Ok, NOW you’re ready to send your kids back to school!

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