Megan is now seventeen and there isn't a chubby bone in her
athletic body. Our son, Ben, is thirteen and playing football
at the flyweight of a mere 76 pounds and wishes he could somehow
put on a few pounds. But they are getting to be more and more
the exception. The American Obesity Association reports that
about 30% of children and teens today are overweight, and that
about half of those qualify as obese. This is 2.5 times the rate
it was just 30 years ago.
Among other problems, these kids are at higher risk for asthma,
diabetes, hypertension and orthopedic problemsnot to mention
being teased unmercifully by their peers. In a society that still
overly glamorizes model-like physiques as the sine qua non of
physical beauty, this can also lead to self-image issues, depression,
and eating disorders. Oh, and these kids are also at much greater
risk at becoming overweight and obese adults. Of course, by that
time they will have lots of company as the incidence of overweight
adults is now up to almost 66%. That two-thirds of us fall into
this category (I pause to pinch my love handles, wondering if
I qualify or not at 6'1" and 195 pounds) makes us wonder
what has been going on in our society the past 30 years thats
making us so
chubby? You can't blame increases
of this magnitude on genetics, unless we have become a nation
of teenage mutant ninja butterballs.
The evidence points more to lifestyle and diet. We have become
a nation of fast food junkies munching away at French fries and
other high-carb foods while frenetically on the go. Unfortunately,
on the go in this case does not usually include exercise. At
thirteen I was usually outside playing the sport du jour (basketball,
baseball, football), while nowadays my son would rather be inside
on the couch mastering the latest video game. I wonder how many
calories one can burn defeating Japanese martial arts villains
in a video game?
We have been teaching parents the importance of healthy activities
in Active Parenting programs since the beginning, stressing that
taking time for fun together is a great way to build relationships
and teach qualities of character.
It worked in my family growing up, and I've tried hard to
pass it along to my children. My dad never seemed too busy to
go outside and pass the football with me, and I loved going with
him to the golf course for a round. At 84 he is still healthy
enough to come to work (at Active Parenting) three days a week
and now I make time to play golf with him. And when I want to
get my son away from the video games, one sure way is to offer
to go outside and throw the football. I even took him and dad
to play golf recently.
My wife sets an even better example for our children. Being
a runner and veteran of a dozen Peachtree Road Races, she has
made exercise and good diet a part of our family lifestyle. She
even taught Megan and Ben to like broccoli by serving it as an
appetizer (when they were the most hungry) as they grew up, and
she's made sure that our family vacations have routinely included
mountain biking, hiking and other physical activities. In this
era of fast food and faster living we need to follow such examples.
Our newest video, Encouraging
Positive Activities, is part of the Families
series that features real parents talking
about ways they have tackled problems such as this one. Other
ideas from the American
Obesity Association and Active Parenting include:
- Make time for the entire family to participate in regular
physical activities like walking, biking or rollerblading.
- Assign active chores to each family member such as vacuuming,
washing the car or mowing the lawn
- Encourage your child to join a sports team at school or a
- Limit the amount of screen time your child engages in (that
includes TV, video and computer time).
- Serve a healthy diet, limiting fried foods, sugar and other
- Encourage your children to be part of the planning, preparation
and cooking of some of the meals.
- Eat more meals together at the dinner table at regular times.
- Have healthy snack food available such as fruits, vegetables
- Avoid serving portions that are too large (and share overly
large portions when you eat out).
- Avoid forcing your child to eat when he/she is not hungry
(If your child is losing too much weight, consult a healthcare
- Limit fast-food eating to no more than once a week (and don't
- Avoid using food as a reward or lack of food as a punishment.
There is no real substitute for exercise and diet when it
comes to teaching our kids, and ourselves, how to have a healthy
weight in life. We teach our kids how to count by playing such
games as one potato, two potato
Now let's teach the whole
family to pass on the French fries and get off the couch. Otherwise,
somebody's mother is going to be calling all of us chubby pretty
Dr. Popkins newest book, the Active
Parenting Now AudioBook, explains how to use effective discipline
and communication skills to help your family run more smoothly.
Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 2003 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.