Love Being Healthy
The epidemic of childhood obesity is a growing concern across the United States. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in our nation in the last 30 years. Currently one third of children in America are obese which creates a predisposition for heart disease and diabetes at a young age. As a Clinical Nursing Supervisor in pediatric home health, I have worked directly with children and their families, physicians, and therapists to formulate the best lifestyle plan to allow optimal growth and development for my patients. Three consistent causes of childhood obesity that I encounter are: unhealthy food choices, lack of exercise, and/or emotional/psychological issues.
Eating habits play a major role in the overall health of an individual. Currently, 27% of high school adolescents report drinking a can/bottle of soda at least once a day. There are 44 grams of sugar in one coke, which is well over the recommended amount of 25g/daily. School lunch programs formerly shouldered a portion of the epidemic blame. However, the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the USDA to improve food served in schools. The new regulations went into effect July 1, 2014 and set limits for fat, salt and sugar sold in places such as vending machines and snack bars. School foods must contain at least 50% whole grains or have a fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient. Foods that contain at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetables are also allowed. Sports drinks that contain relatively high amounts of sugar are prohibited, but the low-calorie versions are allowed. Low-fat and fat-free milk, 100% fruit and vegetable juice, and no-calorie flavored waters are permitted. Potable water must be made available to kids for free where meals are served. However, there are no regulations on what a child can bring to school. Our fast paced, busy world has also created a society that relies heavily on ‘eating out’. The decision to eat out and have snacks is not wrong; however, you are what you eat. Healthier food choices are now being offered by most restaurants, even fast foods, BUT choosing these options must be taught and modeled by parents, therefore they too must accept the importance of these lifestyle choices. Home cooking is a great way to ensure ingredients for meals are natural and less processed. Cooking every day may be unrealistic for some, but preparation is the hardest part of the process and crock pots work wonders, even in the most dynamic homes. Plus, this is a great way to engage with children while teaching a healthy lifestyle at an early age. The ‘healthier’ food choice may not always be the cheapest, but in the long run, personal health is vital to optimal growth and development.
Obesity is frequently linked to a sedentary lifestyle. According to the CDC, in 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 9th-12th graders, 46% did not play on a sports team in the previous year. Now that children have so many electronic devices to gather their attention, they just simply chose not to go outside and play anymore. The average child spends up to 7 hours per day engaging in social media, watching TV, and playing video games. Nickelodeon created a “day of play” where cartoons were not aired for a day so that children were encouraged to play outside. However, with the increasing necessity of a two parent income coupled with rising rates of child abduction, there are legitimate safety concerns of unsupervised outdoor play. Frequent activity keeps body metabolism at its peak. Children have naturally high metabolism, but a sedentary lifestyle can slow this down.
Emotional/psychological issues can also be linked to obesity, hence the phrase “comfort food”. Childhood can be a very emotional time of growth and can result in emotional eating. Having someone available as a confidant or listening ear can help address some of the emotional stressors that could be affecting children and causing unhealthy eating habits, but they also need personal motivation. I encourage children to seek out someone they trust to talk to, and I encourage parents to truly listen to their children, as well as be the role model they need. There are many hotlines and school counselors if children do not feel comfortable talking to their own parents.
Social media is a major way to communicate to vast majorities in a technologically advanced society, therefore posts challenging others to ‘Love Being Healthy’ through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram grab the attention of individuals who would otherwise not read or learn about this growing epidemic. Knowing words are void without example, I not only lead a healthy lifestyle and promote it in my daily work, I have also hosted activity centered events in my community, such as Altrusa Run in the Park, helping engage children in more active and healthy lifestyles, and distributing handouts of affordable and healthy snack ideas. I understand the growing parental concern of allowing children to play outside unsupervised. Many people work full time, and by the time they arrive home from work, it is too dark, or they are too tired to watch the kids play outside. To address this dilemma, I have created an after school daily schedule composed of activities/exercises that promote physical activity for children, but are also fun to do, indoors. As Miss Texas, I will have a louder voice and larger platform to create awareness and implement strategies to halt this epidemic. Children should have a fair opportunity at life without the struggles obesity can bring.