Being overweight can lead to disconcerting health problems for children, so it is much better to keep those health problems at bay by preventing obesity in the first place. How exactly is that accomplished?
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded in its September 30, 2004 report that there is literally no one person to blame for the obesity epidemic rampant in our generation. The report added that different segments of our culture must work hand-in-hand to prevent obesity from ensnaring so many children.
What can parents do? Of course, the usual methods of diet observation, restriction on calories, and physical activity belong with parents. These same parents can routinely impress on their children’s minds the importance of eating healthy foods and to exercise regularly. Extra attention should be given to foods prepared at home since this is where children consume most of their food and where parents have the greatest influence over their behavior.
For example, parents can exchange fatty cheeseburgers and fries for a bowl of fresh fruits, and cans of sugar-saturated soda for fresh fruit juices. TV, computer usage, and video game time (i.e. sedentary lifestyles) can be reduced to a couple of hours per day. Instead, they can be replaced with sports, traditional running games, and other activities that involve physical exertion.
Despite those possibilities, Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan of the IOM has stated that diet restriction and physical activity required of children by their parents will not alone decrease the incidence of childhood obesity; prevention of obesity must also be addressed at the community and national levels.
What can school do? They can join efforts of the US Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies to set and enforce nutritional standards for children while they are on their premises. This include monitoring the foods and beverages sold on school property, including either the removal of vending machines or replenishing them with nutritious snacks. Additionally, a program that engages children for 30 minutes of physical activities should become part of the everyday school routine.
What can the food and beverage industry do? At a minimum, restaurants can offer healthy food and beverage alternatives on their typically high calorie menus – and even highlight them as such. Every meal offered on that menu could be provided a brief nutritional guide for customer convenience.
And how about government agencies? The federal government must publicly recognize that obesity is a national problem, just as with smoking cigarettes. It can lead in the implementation of healthy eating. The reduction of childhood obesity is also assisted by policies which help with the alleviation of poverty through self-sufficiency programs that empower financial responsibility rather than ongoing dependence on government for sustenance and a perpetual poverty cycle; poverty and obesity are strongly correlated.
Poor families are prone to bear a disproportionate burden of obesity among children because processed food that contains an inordinate number of empty calories are less expensive than, say, fresh ingredients for a salad. Despite health warnings, the appeal of cheaper food is simply too appealing for most who struggle to pay monthly bills.
Every segment of a culture can participate in the reduction of childhood obesity, from the children themselves through our most revered leaders. Parents can serve as role models in implementing diet restrictions and physical activity for their children, as well as adhering to those same standards for themselves. Schools can provide time for children to engage in physical exercise each day and eliminate the sale of soda and calorie-laden “food” within their facilities. Restaurants can certainly provide healthy meal options and nutritional facts about the foods they serve. And of course, government bodies can lead with policies that reflect a priority toward healthy lifestyles.