“What breaks your heart?”
For me, the answer is childhood obesity.
How do you tackle a cause so broad, vast and seemingly out of control? By writing about it, talking about it and engaging people in discussion about it. You tackle it one day and one conversation at time. You pray for it to catch fire.
Last week, my friend and fellow personal trainer Rick Houchin and I volunteered at a local elementary school to lead an hour of outdoor exercise with the entire student body and teachers. It was fun and heart warming to watch them run through obstacle courses and try new games that got their hearts pumping. The teachers joined in the action and set a great example.
But some kids really struggled. They struggled to move their bodies because they were physically weighed down, out of shape and discouraged. They were unable to bend down and touch a cone or sit on the ground and hold their feet up. The adults made it our mission to offer extra encouragement, give high fives for effort and even offer modifications so they could still participate without exerting as much physical effort.
Friends, that is the elephant in the room. The thing that is hard to talk about. This column will make some people defensive. This column will make some people take action. Which camp will you be in? I believe our kids want the latter.
Kids want us to step forward and help them be healthy. They want role models who will show them what choices to make with nutrition and exercise. In school, kids thrive with structure, expectations and encouragement. The same is true for their health. Set healthy rules and stick to them. Give praise for their healthy choices.
Why does childhood obesity matter?
For many reasons, big and small.
Kids don’t want to struggle to move. They don’t want to tug at their clothes. They don’t want aching knees and backs. They don’t want to feel different because their bodies can’t keep up. They don’t want to feel lethargic.
Furthermore, they don’t want to face all the health issues associated with sedentary living, poor diet and obesity as they grow. We can help them.
As adults, let’s not burden kids with poor health. I’m not advocating that all kids become athletes. I’m advocating that all kids be given a chance to feel like one, no matter what they do in life.
Here is a list of five ideas to help kids now. Set a new normal for your household and it will start to feel like an old habit.
Will you review, pick one or two things you can work on, and share this article with families in your life that you love and support?
1. Drink more water in your household. Get everyone their own reusable water bottle and count how many you finish in a day.
2. Reduce or eliminate soda. The chemicals and sugars offer no nutritional value. Soda is one of the top culprits for weight gain (and for tooth decay).
3. Reduce or eliminate fast food. The preservatives, fats, sodium and excess calories of fast food are robbing our kids of nutrition and energy. As a family, just decide that a sandwich and apple is just as quick and affordable as a burger and fries. Take the choice of the drive thru off the table and you’ll find new solutions.
4. Have fresh fruit washed and easily available to your kids. Make up snack sized bags of grapes, orange slices or berries.
5. Make physical activity a part of every day life for your entire family. Talk about exercise as a right, not a chore or a punishment. It can be as simple as running the stairs, jogging around the house, doing a hip hop dance YouTube video together (great idea, Dana Lash), or taking the dog for a walk. Do not let a day go by that you sit on the couch or on the computer without balancing it with activity.
Our most powerful tool to fight childhood obesity is to walk the walk ourselves. As adults, we buy the groceries, we plan the meals and we are in charge of the activity of our household. Be a leader in this crusade. Our kids deserve it.