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The Future’s Present

Looking back at the past, the world thirty years ago seems like a simpler time when compared to the present. The video game crash of ’83 bankrupted Atari and paved the way for Nintendo’s success. Floppy disks were literally floppy. Back to the Future became a successful pop culture icon. Children were more worried about cooties than being teased about how bulky they were.

Wait, what?

Believe it or not, childhood obesity has tripled within the past three decades with one in three children born after 2000 suffering or will suffer from health problems including, but not limited to, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma. Back then, kids were more active, adults had time to make home-cooked meals and the food industry used food ingredients that didn’t sound like they were ripped from chemistry textbooks. Nowadays, youths have the internet, adults struggle with the economy, and fast food is a way of life. The quality of food has diminished, food portions have exploded to an additional 200 calories per day and the once-natural foods of the 80s have led to unnatural ingredients triggering abnormal hunger and cravings which leads, unsurprisingly, to weight gain in both youths and adults alike.

The Facts

 

The addition of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup in the American diet has increased our calorie intake by 31 percent, fat intake by 56 percent and sugars/sweeteners by 14 percent. The daily recommended calorie limit for teens and above is 2,000 or less, 1,200-1,600 for preteens. Since it takes 3,500 calories to equal one pound of body fat and most foods and beverages have unneeded ingredients that can wreak havoc throughout the human body, all it takes is an extra 500 calories per day to increase one’s body fat by one pound a week, 52 pounds in a year.

Don’t think 500 calories is so bad? Check the snacks and so-called “fruit drinks” that kids are given in one day. The numbers might surprise you. The high sugars and fat content keep the body from doing its job of burning those calories and instead store them as fat reserves. Even if children were highly active (meaning full-body physically active and not just thumbing a text to their friends in another class), unless they have a naturally high metabolism, they’re going to retain that body fat and it’ll keep building upon itself rapidly, causing physical, mental, and financial strain as the expenses of buying more food and larger clothing pile up.

Scared about the future of our children? Fortunately, the First Lady has had enough of the general public hiding behind the excuse of ignorance and launched the “Let’s Move” program to end the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. The entire campaign can be summarized in five objectives:

1. Educating About Childhood Obesity

You can’t help fight against the obesity problem unless they know what it is first. Put simply, obesity is excess body fat. However, body fat can’t be measured by a simple scale because of the amount of water the human body contains at all times. One’s weight can fluctuate about two pounds over a typical day. This is why obesity is often measured by body mass index or BMI, a measuring of weight in relation to height. While an adult’s BMI is easy to measure, children and adolescents are harder to gauge because their bodies are still developing. The BMI is not to be a replacement for a physical checkup; but it is used to help to determine a person’s overall health.

The rise of childhood obesity eventually causes health problems such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes (a disease that prevents your body from breaking down the sugars necessary for your body to function), asthma (difficulty breathing) and sleep apnea (abnormal slowing or lack of breathing while sleeping). It can also cause social discrimination for children, shattering self-esteem and causing depression. This can harm their academic studies and can affect their social standings throughout adolescence.

2. Start Eating Healthy

In the battle against childhood obesity, the first line of defense starts with parents, guardians and caretakers. Although it’s easy to put all the blame on the food companies or the kids themselves, prevention of overindulgence begins with the adult’s choices on what to feed their kids. To do that, the “Let’s Move” program offers them the equipment necessary to make healthier choices and engrave healthy lifestyles into their offspring.

Provide Nutritional Information

Obviously one of the key tools needed to make any informed decisions about food, nutritional information is science-based advice for individuals over the age of two. Yes, the white labels on the back are considered advice. They can be ignored, but it’s highly recommended that they’re at least checked. Of course, the labels are just like baseball scores; they’re meaningless unless you knows how to read them. Some guidelines to remember would be:

  • Servings Per Container: Any data on the label must be multiplied by this number.
  • Total Fat: Saturated Fat is bad, Trans Fat is dangerous, Poly- and Monounsaturated Fats are the healthy types of fat.
  • Sodium: The more there is, the more likely the body will retain fat than burn it off.
  • Dietary Fiber and Protein: These are a couple of the most essential statistics; the higher the number, the less likely hunger cravings will appear.
  • Sugar and Sugar Alcohol: Limit the sugar intake. They can cause hyperactivity in children and may cause energy crashes at the most inopportune times. Sugar alcohol provides fewer calories, but due to the inability to be absorbed easily by the body, they may cause bloating and gas. Consume with caution.
  • Ingredients: Due to national law, the ingredient list must be ordered from most to least. Avoid high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil and saccharin. Sucralose and neotame are known as the FDA’s “healthiest” sugar substitutes. Also, the fewer the ingredients, the more likely it’s healthier.

Food Pyramid 2.0 at mypyramid.gov

 

Back in the 80s, the government realized that people were becoming complacent and were completely ignorant to what exactly was considered a healthy diet. Since this was before the internet, the food pyramid was mainly seen in schools and pediatrics offices. They were shown as building blocks for a healthy diet and people tended to follow the suggestions. That is, they did until food started becoming processed cheaply and became nothing more than science experiments with foreign agents flowing through your body. Because there were those that actually believed a deep-dish pizza was considered a “well-balanced meal,” the Department of Agriculture realized that a new generation called for a new pyramid. This “Food Pyramid 2.0” not only shows that you need a well-balanced diet, it also requires physical exercise due to the decrease of physical activity over the years (i.e. a reason for the obesity and diabetes epidemic). Although the new pyramid is a great tool for those who need nutritional guidance, if you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthier, there’s another food pyramid that narrows down the food spectrum to the healthiest and most nutritional foods possible. We have partnered with the USDA’s MyPyramid program to do our part to prevent childhood obesity.

Front of Package Labeling

Because this is the “Age of Convenience,” many adults don’t want to have to grab every package of food they see just to view the nutritional label, especially if they were following the nutritional guidelines mentioned above. To help the public out, the FDA is working with retailers and manufacturers to print the important information on the front of the product to make healthy choices easier. In recent years, this has been more noticeable on cereal and snack packaging.

Eliminating Junk Food from Schools

There are several ways that schools can better nourish their students. After all, if the cafeteria food tastes and looks like generic processed science experiments, they probably aren’t healthy for the kids. But it’s not just the cafeteria that’s to blame. Between lunch periods, youths usually go for the most convenient entity that’s open 24/7: the vending machine. Most vending machines are like the slots: insert coins, press one or two buttons and hope that the prize is beneficial. The stocked brand-named junk food is most likely not healthy and can actually do more harm than good. Fortunately, technology is always improving. A healthy vending machine eliminates most of the negative aspects of the regular apparatus by being stocked with healthier products, LCD touchscreens, and card readers to compliment the coin input.

3. Getting People Active

Considering how complacent people have gotten over the years, it’s no surprise that the food pyramid was changed to include physical activity along a healthy diet. After all, children can eat all they want, but unless they have some way to burn off excess calories, controlling weight, staying healthy and developing strong bones, muscles and joints is a lost cause. That’s why the “Let’s Move” program is striving to increase opportunities for kids to be active in and out of school, and develop some lasting bonds with their families as well.

Active Families

To encourage youths to be physically active, they must be led by good example. Being in a supportive and physically active environment means the child will most likely grow up to be physically active as well. They should participate in at least an hour of physical activity per day (not necessarily all at once) and get enough sleep (9-11 hours depending on their age). A lack of sleep means less energy and a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Active Schools

The 60 minutes of physical activity can mainly take place at school due to the fact that students spend most of their week there. A quality PE program combined with other physical activity breaks can help benefit a youth’s physical lifestyle. Although some school leaders may believe that a comprehensive activity program is too expensive, the “Let’s Move” initiative takes several low or no-cost actions to help encourage more physical activity in schools, such as expanding the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge and the creation of a “Safe and Healthy Schools” fund to help schools improve the quality of the learning environment inside and outside the classroom.

Active Communities

Outside of school, a child’s environment is a key factor in their development of a healthy lifestyle. Being in a safe environment to be physically active can promote good habits and a higher likelihood to encourage others to move as well. Non-profit organizations and local businesses can offer afterschool activities, walking or biking to school can help a healthy lifestyle, and outdoor activities in a well-maintained community park or playground offer opportunities for youths to be “on the go” in a free and unstructured play.

4. Helping People Take Action

Part of the “Let’s Move” initiative has numerous “5 simple step” plans that people can take to help improve a child’s lifestyle. There are different plans for parents, schools, community leaders, chefs, health care providers, mayors & local officials and the kids themselves. For example, the parent’s “5 step” plan is as follows:

Step 1. Keep Fresh Fruit in a Bowl within Your Child’s Reach to grab as a Quick Snack

Fruits and vegetables provide the nutrients necessary for the human body to function at optimum levels. If these types of foods are in easy reach, the more likely they’ll be consumed when hungry. Are the kids turned off by the look of the multi-colored food spectrum? Tell them that each color represents “stat increases.” A wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables will increase the likelihood of maintaining a healthy diet.

Step 2. Take a Walk With Your Family After Dinner

Staying active is more fun and satisfying if the whole family is involved. Kids need a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity and what better way to stay motivated than to interact with the ones they love? Set goals for the family to achieve by setting aside time for physical activity, most likely when everyone’s the least busy. If something comes up, don’t cancel it; just make it up sometime later.

Step 3. Plan a Menu for the Week. Get Children Involved in Planning and Cooking

Healthy meals don’t have to be difficult or expensive, they just take planning. Make a shopping list with your children and try new foods that have never been tried before. Getting them involved teaches them responsibility in taking care of themselves and others. When choosing healthier options, consider cutting back on sugar. Besides candies and sugary cereals, eliminate sodas and switch to reduced/non-fat milk or 100% fruit juice. Of course, you could also go with nature’s all-natural weight loss potion, water (with some fresh fruit squeezed for taste if desired). NEVER skip breakfast. This causes a higher food intake later in the day than if breakfast was consumed. Watch the portion sizes and keep them to just enough to make your child comfortable and not bloated. Remember that it takes 20 minutes for your body to receive “full” signals. Try not to inhale the food. Nothing is more important than spending quality time together as a family.

Step 4. Turn Off the TV During Meals and Share Some Family Time

For healthier, active lifestyles, this is a no-brainer. Set time limits for the television and the computer (unless they’re needed for work or homework). Being in front of a screen most of the day can lead to laziness and the likelihood of straining and degenerating your child’s eyes. The time spent in front of the screen can be used to be active instead. Also, try not to emphasize TV as a reward or punishment. This just makes it seem more important to kids. And if they really must watch TV, make sure you understand what they’re watching, especially the commercials. Teach your children that just because something looks good on TV, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for them.

Step 5. Talk to the Principal About Organizing a School Health Team

Because of the importance of getting involved with the school environment, parents can help by supporting any USDA-approved “School Health Team/Council/Advisory Council/etc.” Talk to the principal or PTA president about an active health team and whether it’s possible to join (or organize one if there isn’t any). Use the School Health Index to help plan and assess any strengths or weaknesses in the school’s health policies. Be aware of food and beverages outside of the cafeteria’s meals, mainly the products received from vending machines. The best way is to swap the regular apparatuses with healthy vending machines that are guaranteed to be stocked with better choices than the junk food provided. Any actions taken by the school health team should be important and achievable. There should be no set goal, because improving school nutrition is an ongoing process that can always be adaptable to the changing environment.

5. Joining People Together

If you’re still reading this article, you’re probably thinking that the “Let’s Move” campaign is worth supporting, especially when it’s the future generation at stake. You’re also probably wondering what you can do to help this program succeed. There’s many ways to do this at no cost to you, absolutely free. For instance, you can join the cause by taking the Let’s Move pledge, signing up through E-mail. You can also find or organize a “Let’s Move Meetup” in your city by signing up through their Facebook, Twitter or Flickr. After all, the childhood obesity epidemic can’t be solved just by Washington alone. The Meetups give power to the people, giving the tools and information necessary to take action. With the “Partnership for a Healthier America,” regardless of social status, job or income, every person will be empowered to combat the problem at every level.

This epidemic isn’t something to be taken lightly. If no action is taken and ignorance prevails, the United States will raise a generation of children that may have a shorter lifespan than their parents. That’s a future that no one wants to experience.

skelly

Biomedical Engineer who earned his degree from The Johns Hopkins University & Columbia University. Named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-Founded America’s first Pure Play healthy vending company in 2003.
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