First Lady Michelle Obama is right. Our children are in trouble. On February 9th, she launched her “Let’s Move” campaign to curb childhood obesity. The sedentary lifestyles that affect adults also affect our children and for many of the same reasons—television, computers, video games and a growing assortment of other sit-down technologies—even backpacks won’t provide as much in the way of weight-bearing opportunities with the advent of Kindle! Add to that the consumption of high calorie, low nutrient and constantly available fast foods and the energy equation is up-ended: calories consumed far exceed calories expended.
“From 1980-2004, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children has more than tripled.”1 We are seeing the onset of adult diseases in our youth, those diseases once thought of as diseases of aging: type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. The two distinct types of diabetes were once referred to as juvenile onset and adult onset. Juvenile diabetes is now called type 1 and adult onset is now called type 2 because our youth are now presenting with the adult onset version. “There is now a generation of children who may not outlive their parents due to the diseases associated with obesity, unless we reverse this trend.”2
Exercise is the best medicine our children can take to help prevent the medicines that they may have to take later to treat obesity related diseases. “Increased exercise improves cardiovascular health, and that helps the brain function more efficiently and enhances the ability to learn.”3 Exercise is also essential for developing strong bones. “About 25% of peak bone mass (the genetically determined amount of bone mineral in the skeleton) is developed during puberty (ages 12-17).”4 This at a time when physical education and activity are often minimal or absent. Children and adolescents should be physically active most days of the week for sixty minutes through physical education classes, running and jumping activities at recess, and by spending less time on video games and more time on physical games.
Presidents and first ladies are known for their causes. In 1956, President Eisenhower formed the President’s Council on Youth Fitness with the objective that children should be healthy and active after he read a study that American youth were less fit than European children. In 1963, President Kennedy changed the name to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, a change that reflected the importance of physical fitness for all Americans. I remember getting my 50-mile swimming award by swimming ¼ -mile per day and keeping track of it on a chart. How about charting your child’s progress across a map of Oregon, the United States, or even a foreign country on foot or by bicycle? What a great way to learn geography, too!
Our children are in trouble. We as parents, teachers, school administrators, health and fitness professionals, city, state and federal politicians, owe it to our children to encourage health and fitness. It will serve them well for life. The evolution of technology has led to the devolution of our health. Yes, we need health care reform but we more urgently need lifestyle reform. Obesity is a national epidemic in both children and adults. Can we reverse this trend? We can but it will take a conscious effort to make wellness a national priority.
President Eisenhower began the President’s Council on Youth Fitness to encourage our children to be healthy and active. First Lady, Michelle Obama, began the “Let’s Move” campaign to encourage our children to be active in order to be healthier. It is up to each one of us to help make it our own priority, beginning at home, one step at a time. I heard a great line at the Men’s Biathalon on Sunday at the Olympics that inspired me. They were in the last stretch of the cross-country skiing. The target shooting was all behind them. The announcer said of the lead skier: “Now it’s all up to his legs, his lungs and his heart.” It’s the long run that counts.
1 ,2 Childhood Obesity, ACSM Current Comment, Felicia D. Stoler, MS, RD,FACSM3
3 The Cooper Institute Announces FITNESSGRAM Correlation Data, 3/9/09
4 Women’s Health and Fitness Guide, Kettles, Cole, Wright, 2006
Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM