Volume 22, Number 52 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 7 - 13, 2010
Kids can help solve our childhood obesity problem
By Cecilia Gault
Kids everywhere have a huge problem. We have learned how and what to eat from the likes of Count Chocula, Cookie Monster and Ronald McDonald. “Mmm donuts,” says Homer and we listen. Television has taught us to eat sugar, fat and calories on a sesame seed bun.
The percentage of overweight children in the United States is increasing, with one out of three kids now considered overweight or obese. Too many kids are spending less time exercising and more time sitting in front of the television, computer, or video games. Regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods and vending machine snacks, can easily cause kids to gain weight. Obesity can lead to illness and an early death.
In the past few years, more diseases have developed among kids such as heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, bone and joint problems, diabetes and cancer. Tragically, children from low-income backgrounds are at greater risk of becoming obese. It takes both time and dedication to make healthy eating and exercise a family priority. Preventing children from becoming obese means changing the way the family eats and exercises, and how they spend time together.
According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the diet and exercise habits of the entire family. Families need to learn more about healthy food, where it comes from and how to prepare it.
“At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.” says Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Pollan’s book explains how we have all become overly dependent on corn and how that helped make us unhealthy.
“To be healthier, we need to learn where our food comes from and to know how to cook it,” said celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in a recent CNN interview. Oliver wants people to be healthier and is trying to make a difference. “You know, we don’t have to pretend that burgers aren’t indulgent. We love burgers! The chip is the most incredible, brilliant invention in the world. Eat your chips!” he said. “But not every day.”
Our first lady, Michelle Obama, is a strong leader in the fight against childhood obesity. Her ambitious initiative, “Let’s Move,” is aimed at changing the way American kids eat and play. Her goal is to eliminate childhood obesity. Her plans include improving school lunches and playgrounds.
“We know that solving our obesity challenge won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but make no mistake about it — this problem can be solved,” Obama said.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is also working hard to help kids live longer and healthier lives. He has proposed that the Dept. of Education create a mandatory K-12 nutrition curriculum so that children can become educated about the food they eat, where it comes from, and its impact on the environment and their health. Borough President Stringer has stated he wants to educate New York City’s kids to become a “new generation of healthy and environmentally aware eaters. Moreover, students should have access to some type of agricultural production, be it a community garden or urban farm.”
The good news is kids in New York City have opportunities to exercise in a fun way. Manhattan Youth’s Downtown Community Center helps kids from all parts of the city stay healthy. They have great programs for kids and teens, such as swim lessons, swim teams, basketball leagues, karate, adventurous day camps, and Friday night teen programs with active games, pottery making, and also a nutritious dinner for the teens and parents.
I am hopeful that through education, family and leadership, kids will become more aware of what they eat and how they choose to spend their free time. Childhood obesity is a serious problem, but with education, focus and determination it can be eliminated so that kids can live long, healthy and productive lives.
Cecilia Gault, an 11-year-old Battery Park City resident, is a sixth grader at Professional Performing Arts School and a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.