Thursday, May 22, 2014

Childhood Obesity - What can we do?

The European Union's heath commission released some frightening, but not very surprising numbers, regarding childhood obesity today: More than 400,000 children become overweight each year in Europe (!). The numbers for North America is no better. The 2 leading causes of this epedemic are: poor eating habits combined with a lack of activity. No surprise there either. This is, of course, a very complex problem and not easy to solve. In my humble opinion, here are some key issues to deal with:
1. Daily activity - we need to encourage children to be more active. Much more active. One key problem is the way 90% of all kids entertain themselves - Playstation, TV, Movies etc. Instead of this, lets bring back the joy and wonder of outdoor physical activity. Lets bring our kids out into the park, forest, mountains, back-yard, whatever is available. Encourage the wonder and excitement of being outdoors, go exploring in the forest, look for animals, go fishing, skiing, you name it. Any outdoor acitivity that is fun will teach a young child to love and appreciate what lies outside the 35" Panasonic television set. This, I believe, is one of the most important things we can do to combat the problem. It's important that it's fun and exciting, not a drag or boring.
2. Phyiscal activity in school - for some reason the weekly amount of phyiscal education in our schools have dropped. This trend must be reversed. Lets increase the amount many-folds.
3. Sports - when we enroll children in sports, lets focus on encouraging and establishing good attitudes towards training and living healthy and not focus so much on specialization at an early age or pressure the children into performance oriented goals. That can come later. And, we must face one very important fact: taking your son or daughter twice a week to football (soccer) practice does not fulfill the entire need for physical activity that week. Not even close. Studies have shown that adult-organized activities lead to 70% inactivity in the children. It is much better to let them "run with the ball" and only supervise.
4. Over-Protecting - I know this is probably easy for me to say, since I have no children, but parents are much too overprotective of their kids. Take a look at an average school playground, it will either be completely clear of natural obstacles (trees etc), or if there are any - the branches are all cut off to prevent the children from climbing in it. "We" are all so concerned and afraid that the kids might get hurt, that we create this un-natural environment for them. Let children explore their limitations, and yes, that means falling down from a tree, bleeding a little bit and maybe even having to go to the doctor once in a while. I think children are much more resilient then what we think. This over-protecting creates children that are, for a lack of a better word, "sissies". They are afraid of everything, they don't want to go outside if it's a bit cold or rainy etc. I also think that this over-protecting will lead to the child looking for other, more dangerous, ways of getting an adrenaline rush later in life (drugs, alcahol etc).
5. Eating habits at home - we need to create a simple, good and healthy diet for children in the home. No more soda, fast-food, donuts, candy and other higher sugar and high fat content food. Lets go back to the traditional, simple diet that we used to eat. Some people might say that it is a "punishment" to the child if they can't have a donut and a soft drink, hell no! As I was growing up - I only had soft drinks and candy twice a year (Christmas and New Years). That was it! Was I unhappy? No, I think I had the best childhood anyone could possibly ask for. I was 18 years old or so the first time I had fast-food (training camp in Southern Europe). Have good healthy meals, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That may mean spending more time cooking, versus ordering a pizza etc, but think of what you are doing for your child (and yourself). And I'm not talking about all these "popular" diets (Atkins, no-fat and whatever else there is). No, I'm talking about a simple diet put together with good, raw products. Also, lets bring vegetables and fruit back into our lives.
6. Food in the schools - Walk into a public school now and take a look at what is available for kids to eat. It is amazing! How the heck can we let this happen???? Soft drink machines line the walls, vending machines filled with candy, VERY poor food served in the cafeteria etc. I don't know what to say about that, other than WTF!?
7. As a society we need to make changes - force the schools to serve good food. Remove the poor food items from school property. Increase PE in our schools, teach children about healthy living habits. Let them play outside, even if it's a bit cold...
8. And finally - food manufacturers. Take a look at McDonalds for example. What a great, great marketing plan they have. Happy-meals, toys, a clown as a spokes-man, play-rooms inside the restaurant, a McDonalds strategically placed close to pretty much every school in the western world and a fantastic ad-campaign on every channel that children might watch. Can you get any closer to a "brain-washing" program? How the heck can possibly a kid not want to eat McDonalds several times a week after all that? And it's not just McDonalds, they are all doing it. Every other food product on the market is filled with unhealthy, un-natural "stuff". Can we / should we as a society enforce what food producers can and cannot market? I don't know. But one thing is for sure, I'm scared, very scared, of trying to raise a child in this world. I wish we could get this problem onto the international agenda more. Forget about the flu-pandemic. There is a pandemic going on right now, and it's obesity.
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