childhood obesity

Exercise: Leading By Example

By Lina Younes

How often do we give our children advice to adopt healthy eating habits and lifestyles, yet our actions send another message? To say that “actions speak louder than words” is not just another cliché. Our actions, good and bad, can be even more influential on our children’s outlook on life than endless preaching. In this case, I want to emphasize the need for us to become more active to encourage children to exercise more as well. Let us lead by example.

I still remember as I was growing up, I was often outside with my friends or riding my bike after finishing my homework. During the summer, I was usually outside “from dawn to dusk” with my friends. However, now things have changed. I’ve even seen the difference with my own children. They prefer indoor activities over “the great outdoors.” I guess that I’m largely responsible for that.

Statistics show that childhood obesity has nearly tripled in the last three decades. Childhood obesity has led to numerous other health problems in children from diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, to name a few. Healthy eating habits AND physical activity are the best practices to address the issue with long term positive effects. We cannot leave it to the kids alone. These are good habits that we all should adopt, children and adults, as a family to have a better quality of life.

Increasingly, there are new opportunities to make this family project fun. How about encouraging children to walk or bike more? How about encouraging children in your community to get involved in the Let’s Move Initiative? Just simple steps can go a long way to get more active. Physical activity does not require a gym membership. Sports, gardening, hiking, bicycling, and good old walking can be equally effective. And if you enjoy these activities as a family you get multiple rewards.

Since we’re celebrating Children’s Health Month during October, wouldn’t this be a good time to start? Do you have any family activities planned? Please share them with us.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Outdoor Activities for Better Grades

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By Lina Younes

As I was watching one of the morning shows covering the Olympics Games this week, I saw a feature story about a primary school in England that had incorporated cooking classes into the curriculum. The intention was not to produce future chefs, although many of the students had become quite skilled in the culinary arts. The objective was to get children outdoors, to teach them about gardening, to make them aware of where food comes from, and how eating fresh food makes them healthier. While their culinary talents were an added bonus, the program pointed out to many positive outcomes. The part that caught my attention was when the reporter asked the schoolmaster if there had been an improvement in their overall grades in traditional classes. The school master answered with an emphatic “yes!”

Many of the issues highlighted in the London school were similar to First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move which focuses on fighting childhood obesity by improving access to healthy food in schools and in the home and by increasing physical activity. I would take the benefits of this program one step further. How about increasing opportunities for children to have healthy outdoor activities? How about exposing children to nature? What would be the impact on children’s health and knowledge?

In fact, there have been several small studies which show a correlation between environmental education and improved student achievement and success in the sciences. The studies indicate how hands-on learning experiences through outdoor or environmental education enhance problem-solving skills, improved performance in the sciences while fostering overall environmental literacy and stewardship. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

So, while we still might have time off with the kids during the remaining summer vacation, why not try engaging our kids in some outdoor activities away from the TV? What do you think?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY PART II: Staying Active

Every morning I walk through the lobby of my apartment building, passing a group of kids who are waiting for the school bus. What are they doing as they wait? They aren’t talking to or playing with one another. They’re “playing” on their BlackBerrys. The BlackBerry: a gadget made for business people, not for seven-year-olds as a substitute for tag or basketball.

Not only cell phones, but other technological advances have made children more sedentary. Videogames, computers, and iPods have given children a way to stay “active” without actually being active. These activities do not involve much movement beyond the comfort of their own home or couch. It seems that children are having more fun interacting with technology rather than with one another. They are choosing inactive doings rather than active, such as, participating in sports teams or playing outside.

Physical activity seems to be diminishing more and more everyday. No longer do we see kids playing outside until dark. We don’t even see kids out on the playground at recess much anymore. In some of the schools that I have volunteered, the children are even given a choice as to whether they want to go outside or play inside on the computers or in the library. Only for asthmatic children who can’t play outside with poor air quality is this a choice worth having. Physical education is seen less in school systems as well. Although it still may be present, the time spent in P.E. is much shorter and it can be said that the activities are less strenuous than in the past.

The purpose of this two-part blog is to show the two main causes of childhood obesity. It is not enough to just eat right or to just exercise appropriately. The two must be done together. Obesity is a two-part fiend that can be solved with the right diet and exercise. We must ensure that our kids are healthy now such that they can be healthy in the future and for the rest of their lives.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY PART I: Healthy Diets

For the past two years I have been volunteering at a local elementary school in my hometown. Only recently did I have a chance to see the cafeteria. Scanning the trays I saw the “typical” cafeteria foods : pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. Rarely did I see fruits and vegetables, but I always saw some sort of sweet on nearly every tray in the cafeteria.

This is part of the reason why there is a childhood obesity epidemic taking over the county. Kids are simply eating the foods that they like best, most of these foods being processed and lacking the essential nutrients that their bodies need.

Unhealthy diets do not only reside in the school, however. With the increasing amounts of microwavable meals and packaged foods, a home-cooked meal is quickly becoming a rarity and a thing of the past. We are trading health for convenience. Popping something into the microwave or oven takes less energy and time than making a home-cooked meal. The nutrients that we could be getting from fruits and vegetable are overshadowed by these extremely processed foods. Theses foods are often high in fat, sugars, and calories and lacking important nutrients that aren’t only harmful to the health of children, but to adults as well. Adults must then serve as an example. If they are eating well then their children will eat well also.

Children are almost completely reliant on their authority figures to provide them with appropriate meals. Therefore, it is important that we go to those authority figures, the school administrators and the parents, to encourage healthy diets for children. There must be a shift in the way that children are eating. No more should their staple foods be that of pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. More fresh and prepared meals must be given to children.

It may take a little more time and effort to make home-cooked meals or pack a child’s lunch, but the small amount of time and effort added to preparing healthy foods should not be overridden by the health benefits. Also, the packing of a school lunch and preparation of a meal can be a learning experience for children as they can learn how to cook and pack their own lunches while learning about what foods are wholesome.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Playing Outside: Important For Children’s (And Adults’) Health

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I’m sure you’ve heard about the record amount of snow that the DC area got this past weekend. As a native Bostonian, and a recent resident of northern New England, I get excited about big snow storms, particularly an unusual one such as this!

Mostly, I like snow storms because I like playing outside. As a kid, I’d often join up with friends at a favorite sledding hill or build forts for snowball fights. These days, I try to grab my skis (cross-country or telemark) as quickly as possible, though I sometimes settle for just tromping around. An important ingredient for these activities is some amount of nearby (ideally hilly) open space, parks or woods. These areas are also favorite spots for me during the non-snowy seasons for running, walking, birding, and biking. I’ve been really lucky to live in places where I could access public open space pretty easily. A lot of neighborhoods don’t have those areas available for kids and adults to enjoy.

Given that childhood obesity has tripled among adolescents and extensive efforts are underway to get kids to play outside more, providing open spaces for kids to be physically (and mentally) active should be more of a priority for developers, redevelopers and town planners. A lot of communities, particularly disadvantaged ones, could use more sporting fields, courts and playgrounds, so that every kid has one around the corner. Based on my experience, I think it’s important not to overlook the “informal” spaces for simply playing outdoors, too. Where else are kids going to sled when the snow falls? (No soccer field or baseball diamond I ever played on was steep enough for sledding!)

Folks here at EPA are promoting healthier communities that incorporate open spaces and recreational areas for communities. They’ve supported a lot of important research and community-level engagement efforts to promote open space and other elements of smart growth. Among other things, access to community space for recreation and outdoor exercise has been associated in some instances with declining levels of obesity, which is in part why open space provides economic benefits for communities.

I encourage you to enjoy your neighborhood’s open spaces and to ask your local officials and community leaders about getting an open space project off the ground.

About the author: Matthew H. Davis, M.P.H., is a Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, working there on science and regulatory policy as a Presidential Management Fellow since October 2009. Previously, he worked in the environmental advocacy arena, founding a non-profit organization in Maine and overseeing the work of non-profits in four other states.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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