America is a nation obsessed with weight. And justifiably so. Sixty percent of Americans are overweight.
An even more frightening fact is that the group getting fatter fastest are nine- to 13-year-olds.Being overweight causes all sorts of health problems, some immediately, some that show up decades later. Among the serious problems health professionals are seeing among kids these days: type II diabetes, until recently seen only in adults; high cholesterol and, among adolescent girls, osteoprenia, the precursor to osteoporosis, once a concern limited to women approaching menopause.
Physically fit children do better in other areas as well, according to Mary Jane Johnson, regional health and fitness manager for the Wellbridge Company, Albuquerque, N.M., which operates 46 multi-sport fitness centers nationwide.
"Kids who are physically fit have higher academic scores, higher self-esteem, less depression, the list goes on and on," she says.
But while the benefits of exercise and good nutrition are well known, the trick is making the transition from evenings spent in front of the television to evenings spent going on family walks, or jogs, or trips to the gym.
Meeting the Challenge
It's a challenge, but it's not impossible. It's a matter of setting priorities and managing your time, says Bill Gobin, founder and CEO of Lift for Kids (www.liftforkids.com), a non-profit organization that does one-day fitness workshops for children throughout the nation.
Parents can change their family's lifestyle, building in more exercise and teaching wiser food choices. And they can do it as a family, gaining not only health benefits but also the emotional benefits of doing things together in a society in which work, school and extracurricular activities can often make it hard for families to be together.
The Will family in San Jose, Calif., is an example of how families can make enormous changes in their lives. The Wills are a yours-mine-and-ours family, with six kids between them. Two, 14-year-old Andrea and 11-year-old Julianne, are still at home.
They and the parents have remade their lifestyle, spurred by the concern of one of their health-conscious older daughters, 18-year-old Ashley Johnson. The four have lost total of 80 pounds and 80 waistline inches in a family fitness program they began in early October.
Scott Will, the dad, has lost 40 pounds. Andrea has lost enough weight that she's looking forward to attending a Valentine's Day party she had planned to skip because shopping for a new outfit to wear to the party was too painful.
Julianne has gone from a size extra large to small or medium and is very proud of having just learned how to ride her bike. And mom Karen has discovered that she's a good cook even when she's not making heavy cream sauces or frying string beans in bacon grease.
"The girls are needing new clothes, Scott's needing new clothes, I'm needing new clothes," she says and adds that, with sugar cut out of the diets, the girls are happier kids who no longer suffer sugar highs and the subsequent crashes.