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What can parents do to help their children from becoming overweight?

September is First “National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month”

By Lynnea Mahlke

September is the first “National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.” Politicians and the media will suggest that kids need to put away their video games and cell phones and get outside and play. They’ll also declare war on school lunches, fast food and vending machines. With nearly one out of every three American children being clinically overweight or obese, the health and well-being of future generations is undeniably at risk. As we approach the end of September, what have we learned and what can we do to ensure our children don’t become part of these statistics?

A Fitness/Mother View
“Too much blame is being placed on the kids,” says mother of two (Kurt, 7, and Max, 4) and Anytime Fitness club owner, Lynnea Mahlke. “Adults need to step up and be better role models if we want our kids to be healthy. That’s what this is all about. National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is a great idea, but let’s offer some real solutions,” Lynnea says. “ According to recent research, the primary reason we have so many overweight kids is because they have poor role models: overweight adults.

  • “If one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent chance that the children will also be obese. However, when both parents are obese, the children have an 80 percent chance of being obese.” - American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
  • “The Factor that puts children at greatest risk of being overweight is having obese parents.” -Stanford University of Medicine researchers.
  • More than two-thirds of states (38 out of 50) now have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent

As a parent and fitness club owner, Lynnea is “doing something about it”  This summer Anytime Fitness partnered with the Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut to offer a variety of free outdoor fitness events, such as hiking, bike rides, Nordic Walking, etc. “We wanted to encourage our members and the community in general to get out and get active. If we expect our kids to turn off the TV and go outside to play for at least an hour a day, shouldn’t we try to do the same ourselves?” asks Lynnea. The Purple Bench (www.purplebench.com) events will continue this fall with walking programs, “kids & weights” and even a workout session on the beach.

The members of an organization called COAK – the Coalition of Angry Kids (www.coak.org .) are “angry” because adults aren’t doing enough to help children lead healthy lifestyles.  More than 1,300 participating Anytime Fitness clubs are answering by offering adults free 30-day memberships with other complimentary services to get adults ‘moving’.
“It’s our way of saying it’s time to stop blaming the kids,” Lynnea says. “It’s time to lead by example and our fitness and nutritional experts are looking forward to helping parents and grandparents become great role models.“

Sleep-Obesity Connection
“Children under 5 who do not get at least 10 hours of sleep at night are almost twice as likely to be overweight or obese later in childhood,” a new study reports. And naps during the day don’t count. A study, published September 6, 2010 in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, analyzed data from a national representative sample of 1,930 children under 14. The data included detailed diaries from two random days, in which parents recorded the amount of time a child spent in various activities, among them sleeping.

The study adds to an existing body of evidence suggesting that sleep plays an important role in weight regulation, perhaps because tired children are not as active or because sleep affects hormones that influence hunger and appetite, according to  the paper’s lead author, Janice F. Bell, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle.” (New York Times, 9/6/10)
“What we’re saying is that adequate sleep at age 0 to 5 is probably more important than we think,” Dr. Bell said, adding that the good news is that “it’s a modifiable risk factor — it’s something we can change.”

So, how do we get kids sleeping more? Think back to your own childhood...how much time did you spend outdoors?

“ I grew up in the sixties in New England,” shares Susan Epstein, Parent Coach. “The winters were brrrr! And the springs were rainy...lots of rain. We played for hours in the snow and we didn't have waterproof mittens, either. I still remember banging on the door asking for a dry pair because the pair I was wearing was completely frozen with icicles hanging off!”

“By the age of 10 I had my own paper route. The papers were delivered at 4:30PM, 7 days a week 365 days a year. I did this for 4 years on foot! I saved every penny, banked it and made a whopping $400! And guess what, I walked the route in all weather.”

Susan’s point is, the outdoors was a huge part of her universe. It was good for her and good for her mother. (She got things done and got a break from the kids!)

But sadly, the world has changed and parents are afraid to let children roam unsupervised (They might get snatched!) Or maybe your neighbors will judge you! "That parent doesn't supervise her children!"

 In 2005 the Manufacturers of Persil washing powder did a survey...called "Dirt is good", with 33 things your child should do before the age of 10.'

Here are some Susan chose that are fun and that encourage outdoors activities:

  • Roll down a grassy bank
  • Make a mud pie
  • Catch frogs
  • Build a sand castle
  • Climb a tree
  • Make snow angels
  • Take part in a scavenger hunt
  • Camp out in the yard
  • Feed a farm animal
  • Find some worms
  • Ride a bike through a muddy puddle
  • Make and fly a kite
  • Find 10 different leaves
  • Plant a tree

These activities don't cost a cent, offer plenty of fresh air and get the kids tired, which helps kids sleep lots of hours. According to the studies, kids who sleep more are less likely to have a weight problem. This is a wonderful start to a full, active healthy life that you can provide your children.


Contributed by these Past Board Members of SECT Women’s NETWORK:
Lynnea Mahlke, Anytime Fitness of East Lyme, CT
Susan Epstein, LCSW, Parent Coach

As profiled on GRACE magazine website, www.graceforwomen.com

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