Remember when you were a kid, playing outside all day long, all weekend long!  At school, going outside for recess and playing for 30 to 45 minutes; then, coming home and playing for hours, every day.  Have you noticed a change in the amount of physical activity in our children lately?

Do you ever remember seeing a vending machine in your school when you were a kid?  I remember visiting the water fountain a lot, but not a soda or snack machine.  How about all the sweet snack foods and candy that we see at the store, in the office, and during parties.   This food seems to be abundant and always in reach, even when were trying to be good.

The two leading causes in childhood obesity are decreased physical activity and the over indulgence of food that has a lot of sugar or carbohydrates.  Lets talk some facts.  The obesity rate continues to climb, where adolescent children 6-19 years old, has nearly tripled since 1966, now at 15-17% of the adolescent population.  More than 10% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight, up from 7% in 1994.  It’s not just an epidemic in children, 65% of all American adults are overweight or obese too.

Overweight and obese children are at risk of serious health problems.  Type II diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes, is no longer adult onset.  A dramatic rise of children suffering from type II diabetes is occurring, where 1 in 4 children are showing early signs of the disease, and 60% of children already have one risk factor for heart disease.  In fact, 80% of type II diabetes is related to obesity.  Other illnesses related to obesity include:  70% of the obese population have cardiovascular disease, 42% breast and colon cancer, 30% of gall bladder surgery, and 26% have high blood pressure.

If current trends continue, adolescents with type II diabetes may experience heart trouble beginning as young as 30 to 40 years of age.  In addition, being overweight or out of shape makes the heart work harder.  Overweight children are at increased risk of heart failure, and children with serious asthma are more likely to be overweight.

Who wants to do something about it?

So, what can we do about it?  I have a few suggestions for all of us.  Parent’s can provide better foods while their children are at home.  First, decrease portion sizes a little.  How about avoiding the cereals that are predominantly made with sugar, you know the cereals I’m talking about!  We can also decrease the consumption of snack foods such as cookies, cakes, ice cream, candy, and soda: all of this excess sugar in the body gets converted to fat.  In addition, the calories in these foods provide no nutritional value to you.  Parents can also encourage their children not to use the snack and soda machines at school, send them off with a good lunch and a few healthy snacks that they can eat while at school.  How many times do you go out to eat?  Eating out frequently is a contributor to obesity.  Decrease the frequency of fast food, and if you go, eat more of the healthy items on the menu.  Parents, don’t encourage play time on the computer, Game Boy, X-Box, or the TV.  Encourage your children to go outside and run around with their friends, the dog, and you can even get out there with them!

School administrators, continue educating the children about eating correctly using the basic food groups of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and meats.  Then, practice what you teach.  Get rid of the soda in the vending machines and replace it with bottled water and a few juices.  If you can’t do that, then eliminate the vending machines all together.  It won’t hurt the kids to use the water fountains!  Provide a well balanced lunch at school with moderate proportions.  You don’t have to bring in high priced produce that takes a lot of prep time to accomplish this either.  Recess should occur everyday when possible; get the kids out playing kick ball, soft ball, hop scotch, or running around the play ground for 30 minutes.  For older students, ensure physical education is included in the schedule at least 3 days, 5 would even be better.

Kids, don’t think that I was going to leave you out of this.  Try your best to go outside and have fun.  You can have so much fun outside.  You can walk with your friends, ride your bikes, play with your toys, play baseball, football, soccer, hockey, or Lacrosse.   Let your imagination go wild and explore the outside world.  I would suggest saving the computer games for the rainy days or at night.

A little discipline to change our eating and playing habits will go along way.  And you will be on your way to a healthier and a better quality of life.


Dr. Gary Welch, PT, CFCE, CFMT, CKTP, COMT

Owner – Spectrum Physical Therapy

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