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Childhood Obesity and Activity

October 21, 2010

Our colors

You’re not gonna believe this, but we are still marveling over the vast number of intelligent, coherent, and useful responses that came in regarding last Friday’s post, “When There Is Nothing to Do but Eat.” For instance, somebody known as JumpGym Vancouver suggested a series of articles from a program called “Canadian Sports for Life” (CS4L), in which Dr. Colin Higgs talks about Active Start, the activity plan for children from birth to age six. At this stage, it’s all about introducing kids to relatively unstructured play that encourages a wide variety of body movements. Dr. Higgs says,

An early active start enhances development of brain function, coordination, social skills, gross motor skills, emotions, leadership, and imagination. It also helps children build confidence, develop posture and balance, build strong bones and muscles, promote healthy weight, reduce stress, improve sleep, learn to move skillfully, and learn to enjoy being active.

We notice that, out of 15 listed benefits, only one of them is “promote healthy weight.” This is relevant because of new research (“The Early Bird Study“) that seems to indicate that getting lots of exercise doesn’t help fat kids lose weight. And maybe it doesn’t, but exercise does 14 other things, and, if you catch the kids young enough and get them moving around, exercise may even prevent childhood obesity. How? Because a child who’s busy developing good brain function, coordination, social skills, gross motor skills, leadership, imagination, confidence, good posture and balance, a strong frame, a resistance to stress, and all those other positive attributes will consequently be a happy and well-coping kid.

With all that going for her or him, there is a much smaller chance that the child will overeat for the traditional reasons of needing comfort or relief from stress. This is what many Childhood Obesity News readers report about their own experiences. They fondly remember their own childhood days of ceaseless outdoor activity. Nowadays, even if parents have the time to accompany the kids and hang out with them, there just don’t seem to be enough appropriate places for their children to indulge in the same kind of play. Even today though, some families are lucky enough to live in areas where the idea of “free-range kids” is not totally outlandish. Here are a few typical comments, followed by names or usernames.

  • As a pediatric dietitian treating children and their families I see this all the time. Kids can’t go out until parents get home and the boredom eating is a huge problem. — nurturingnutritionist
  • I read somewhere that a child gets more intellectual and creative stimulation from playing in dirt than from computers. I have no idea if it’s true, but it sounds good. — lifeintheboomerlane
  • My Internet went out … so my son had no cable T.V. or Internet for two days. When I got home from work yesterday, there were two small piles of leaves on the front lawn. I asked him who put those leaves there. He told me he got ‘bored’ and decided to go outside and rake the yard! — rtcrita
  • Being obese since childhood, even though there was a safe neighborhood atmosphere, I ‘detached.’ The children were cruel and bullied me, even with physical assault, causing me to stay inside, and eat. Which made the cycle spin. — julieUnscripted
  • Children who are not allowed to go outside and don’t exhaust their energy by being active most of the day, start having attention problems, some of them are being labeled and are being drugged by parents, teachers and psychiatrists just because parents and teachers cannot deal with an over active child that doesn’t get enough exercise. — blogergal
  • This is precisely why I loved being a camp director. No child left indoors. — teapotchronicles
  • I choose to live in a more economically distressed neighborhood where parents cannot afford daycare and after school care, and instead, get to know the neighbors so that we all know who we can trust. It’s worked out really well and made a very nice neighborhood. — Bill
  • Maybe neighborhood moms could band together and take turns being nearby while kids play together. — Christy aka Mamarazzi
  • How about creating a sort of neighborhood watch for the kids? Select a parent each day to supervise the kids outside… Hopefully most parents can set aside at least one day a week to make sure their kids are safe while they play outside. Everyone benefits, especially the kids. — berettaluvz26
  • This country swings in extremes and always has. ‘Twas a time when children (more so the poor) were undernourished, overworked and treated like scum. Nowadays, they are kept like calves in pens and thrown the cabinet and the fridge. — gebarr

Yes, everybody has a lot of obligations and appointments, parents and kids alike. As Dr. Umar Dar remarks,

We have now become more of a two income home society… in which there is little time for a home care giver (we use to call her mom) to provide families with healthy meals that included an adequate serving of fresh fruits and vegetables. Now because of our fast paced lifestyle, many parents are left to look for ‘quick meals’ and much of our daily food intake is often ‘on the go.’

This is an area where we (parents) need to take a good, hard look at ourselves. Sometimes, our lives don’t really need to be so busy. If we step back and really think about it, we might find that a lot of our activity is not really necessity-driven. Sometimes we create a lot of pointless, futile busy-ness that doesn’t really need to exist. And kids can take some responsibility too. As reader “Athais” notes,

Children, especially teens, can quit asking to be driven to school, can ask for healthier meals and choose healthier meals, can exercise. No one is stopping them. They choose not to, especially the teens. Poor habits can be broken if one chooses to do so. But coddling parents don’t help.

Addressing the question of possible abduction and other nightmare scenarios that plague the minds of parents, and the relative likelihood of something like that actually taking place, reader “faithmcgown” says,

So much of the problem is fear. Parents’ fear of something terrible happening to our children, when in fact, that something is happening right under our noses.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Active Start,” Canadian Sports for Life
Image by lululemon athletica, used under its Creative Commons license.

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