Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Childhood obesity: Where the road leads
My 10-year old cousin is a ticking time bomb. He's more than a little chunky -- actually, a lot more -- he's fat. His mealtime staples include french fries, processed chicken nuggets and of course, soda. Lots of soda. I stand by as my relatives feed him this toxic menu and I know he has friends who eat the same way.
The obesity epidemic in the United States is particularly glaring among our young people. Add asthma and mental illness and you've got the top three chronic illnesses setting millions of children on a perilous path. What you may find shocking is that many of these kids could die or be severely handicapped by their 30s or 40s, and some in their 20s. In fact, today we know that the number of children whose parents report that they are disabled by their illness -- that means staying home from school because they can't breathe, or have hypertension at age 10 -- has quadrupled since the 1960s.
Dr. James Perrin, a director at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston, says that unless we stem this trend, there will be millions of people in their 20s and 30s who will be living on public welfare, unable to find a job. And that doesn't even take into account the strain they will put on the health care system.
The reasons for the obesity problem among our youth are definitely complex, but television seems to be at the core. Kids are simply watching too much, and it is happening at the expense of exercise.
Even if you don't have children, this is the type of story that can make you wonder what's happening to kids today. The idea of an entire generation incapacitated, unable to work, or dying too soon is very scary... and very real.
Of course there are ways we can reverse the trend.
Parents can become more aware of what's going on with their kids - get them moving, not watching more TV. In fact, studies show that when families exercise together, the weight loss is more substantial than if children are left to their own devices.
There are other ways to curb the trend of childhood illness -- community centers, school exercise programs, and eating better are all examples.
But the real impact begins at home. What do you think?
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