or… 3 Revolutionary Ways to Fight Childhood Obesity

There’s been some fantastic new research published about childhood obesity, its causes and how to fight it. About 1 in 3 kids in the US and UK is classified as overweight or obese. So it’s not a moment too soon to look through some of this research and draw conclusions as to what the best ways are to prevent or fight it for your own kids.

Hey - where'd my toes go?
Hey – where’d my toes go?

Here are just some of the findings:

  • Genetics matter, as a University of Michigan study published in the American Heart Journal found.
  • City sprawl reduces the number of kids cycling to school reports The Atlantic.
  • Mosquitoes. Yes, mosquitoes (especially Asian Tiger mosquitoes) can make your kids fat. You heard it here first. Or maybe somewhere else, like the Courier Journal
  • Ads for bad food. On popular children’s sites in the year to June 2010, there were over 3 billion (yes, with a B) display ads for foods, with 84% being high in sugar, fat and sodium. In this report on Pediatric Obesity.
  • Bad chemicals as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found.

Now call me a cynic, but although all of this is valuable research, isn’t much of it playing round the edges? To my mind, the more relevant and mainstream facts are the ones that UofM above found:

  • 58% of obese children watched two hours of TV the previous day, compared to 41% of non-obese children.
  • 45% of obese students always ate school lunch, but only 34% of non-obese students ate school lunch.
  • More than 30% of obese students had consumed regular soda the previous day. Less than half ate two portions of fruits and vegetables within the past 24 hours. Only one-third said they exercised for 30 minutes for five days in the previous week.

Now I’m sure that mosquitoes are indeed an issue, as are obesogens. As for city sprawl, maybe if we parents woke up to the fact that more kids are killed in car accidents than through stranger abduction (which I suspect is the real paranoia behind much of the driving to school syndrome), then we’d let them just get out there and cycle.

BUT in the grand scheme of things, for any child of a given genetic make-up, if they move more and eat better, they will be less likely to be obese. And that, friends, is my revolutionary conclusion after sifting through these facts. Until those two things have been resolved, most of the other stuff is at best noise, but sadly at worst excuse.

So what are my 3 revolutionary ways to fight childhood obesity? Well, hold on to your hats, these are SOOOOO dramatically different from anything you’ve ever heard, that you’ll accuse me of heresy and send me to the pope for execution.

  1. Make exercise and activity a routine part of their lives. Note I didn’t say “make them exercise more”. That will happen, but the real goal is to make it a habit. Bike rides out together to the park, or to school. Goof around in the yard with them. A swimming or a hiking holiday (which also fortunately happen to be cheaper than many alternatives). Less time sat on all our fat butts in front of a screen of some sort.
  2. Help them build healthy and regular eating habits. You know the drill – less processed foods, more natural foods, more freshly prepared, and so on and so forth. How much sugary stuff are your kids getting from YOU? They’re almost definitely getting some behind your back, but are you adding to it?
  3. Be a role model. And I mean a good one! I wasn’t, but I’ve been cutting down the I eat both for them AND for me. Not only is this about giving them a better role model for eating, but with any luck my improved health will mean I can run around with them for longer than I would have otherwise.

There you have it. Feel the earth move? No, I didn’t think so. But as with so much, it’s not that we don’t already KNOW what we should do. It’s actually DOING what we already know we should do.

At Freaky Rivet, a number of the activities that we are releasing weekly will aim to get kids more physically active, as well as stimulating creativity, learning and just plain having fun. I’m trying some out myself – after all, kids learn more from watching what we do than from what we tell them. Or at least that’s my excuse for pretending to be a kid with some of these activities again.

P.S. As for the impact of bad food ads, now THAT one gets me mad. That is very real, and we need our advertisers or governments to help us stop those kinds of ads being thrust at our kids. And if neither of them will do that, we need to stop letting our kids use those sites. But that’s for another blog post!

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