Want to know why I think childhood obesity is so high?

Reports indicate childhood obesity has tripled from the 1970s, and one in three children is classified as obese or overweight.

A while ago, I did what started as a stupid thing, but which turned into a learning experience that has brought me to the explanation for the rise in chunky children. 

lawn mowerMy fiance had to go out of town on an extended business trip and I volunteered to mow the lawn.  With a push mower.  I’m a pretty healthy 50 year old.  I walk or jog almost daily, I park away from the stores so I get a little extra exercise, I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and I am on the move all day.  You get the picture.  I’m not a slug.

So the first week, I started out all gung ho.  I’ve got my work boots on, and I’m ready to kick some lawn butt.  The lawn is in three parts, the back lawn, the front lawn, and a large side lawn.  They all have inclines, but they realy don’t look that steep. I thought to myself, this should be a BREEZE.

I started in the back.  By the time I finished this little weenie piece of lawn, my arms were sore, my hands were aching, my legs were exhausted, and I was hot and sweaty, and I said to myself, “You are so STUPID for volunteering to do this.”

It’s now weeks later, and here’s what I can say.  I have toughened up.  I can do the entire lawn in an hour and 1/2 or less, and it looks great.  I can get up and down the hills just fine, and my muscles are strong. 

And here is what this made me realize about childhood obestiy.

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Raking lawnWhen is the last time you saw children outside raking the leaves, or raking the cut grass, or mowing the lawn, or weeding in the garden or doing any of those outdoor chores?

When I was growing up, we all helped out.  I was one of three girls, and I still remember the dreaded chore chart.  And it wasn’t just washng the dishes and cleaning the inside of the house.  We did all those things I just mentioned, except use the lawn mower.  And we didn’t play till the chores were done, and the chores were done correctly, even if that took hours.

And then we disappeared for remainder of the entire day.  We ran up and down streets playing tag with our friends.  We climbed trees and made fishing poles of limbs, string and safety pins, dug worms, and hiked down to the pond to “fish.”  We rode bikes and walked miles to a store.  Bottom line, we were incredibly active.  And we stayed that way until the sun went down.

The same was true of our friends who lived in the city.  They carried laundry to the laundrymat for their mom, and went shopping and lugged home the food and then they played stickball, and hand ball, and basketball, and all sorts of non-stop games.

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Today, our children have an entirely different life (and I know this is not true of every family, but I do believe it’s true of the majority of families).

  • First, our children don’t disappear for the day.  We’re afraid to let them disappear for hours on end.  We have to keep our eye on them every minute.  Even if they are outside playing in the lawn, we have to watch them.  Part of what made my childhood so awesome was the ability to explore everywhere.  If we got bored from our property, we went to the neighbors. If my parents needed us, they could always find us because all the neighbors knew the kids.  So my mom or dad would call a parent on a different street, and they’d find out if we were there. And all that time we were out of the house, we were exercising, playing, staying healthy.  Today, because of all our parental fears about what might happen to our children if they’re out of our sight (and yes, may of these fears are well founded!), our children are much more sedentary.
  • Second, we seem to consider “labor” against the parental code.  We’ve let our children get soft.  In general, we don’t force our children to do things that will be tiring, or will require them to sweat, or would be considered work.  We struggle to get them to do even their homework (which by the way could be an entire different post about current school policies about homework!), and we struggle to get them to clean up after themselves, let alone getting them to do household work (for FREE – gasp, the thought).  So most of us don’t make our children mow the lawn, trim the weeds, etc.
  • Third, our children sit a lot.  A very large portion of their day is spent in front of the TV, watching on-demand movies, playing with the XBox360, or sitting on the couch texting on their phones.  And when they go to visit friends, what do they do?  They sit in front of the TV, watch movies, use the XBox360, and text on their phones.  Many teens spend 30 to 40 hours per week watching TV.  That’s a full-time job!  It’s no wonder they are getting bigger.

video games

So yes, while I think some adolescent obesity is due to medical reasons, junk food at school, processed food at home, or real problems like depression or low self-esteem, I believe a huge part of the obesity problem is lack of activity on the part of our children.  

So now’s the time to get the newest generation of kids active.  And we don’t need to pay money at an exercise class for that.  We need to return to the days of children helping out as their role in a family, of non-coddling when things get tough, of letting kids do fewer structured activities so they can do more exploring with their friends.

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And now let’s hope the grass doesn’t grow this week.

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