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Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2001 / 3 Teves, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Parents robbing kids of their futures -- IT seems there are a lot of little rotund people running around these days, and I'm not talking about Santa's elves. I'm talking about obese children. The growing problem, excuse the pun, is obvious even without the just released finding from the Journal of the American Medical Association that childhood obesity is increasing dramatically, and at a faster rate than ever before.

I see dangerously overweight kids all around me. Not just at McDonald's where, on the rare occasion my kids are there, I see other families who make it look like home. But everywhere - the pool, the mall, even the playground and my daughter's gymnastics class. The problem is simple. There are way too many American youngsters consuming far more calories than they expend.

According to the journal's just released findings, being "overweight is the most common health problem facing U.S. children. "Between 1986 and 1998, the percentage of overweight or very overweight black and Hispanic youths age 4 to 12 more than doubled and for whites it rose by 50 percent. That means that today almost a quarter of all black and Hispanic youngsters and 12 percent of white children are dangerously overweight."

This has huge implications for children's health now and later. Overweight children are far more likely than their peers to be overweight adults, and thus to experience health problems ranging from heart disease to cancer - and they are more likely to die younger. Already overweight youths are developing Type II diabetes, commonly called Adult Onset Diabetes, at such a rate that the name of the disease may have to be changed. Of course, there are folks who will be outraged at me for "making the problem worse" by making these young people "feel bad" about themselves.

Well, I can assure such naysayers that most obese youngsters already feel pretty bad about themselves due to the nature of their condition. And what's making it worse is not me; not some "obese gene" which has suddenly presented itself only in the last dozen years or so; it's not the medical community which points out the facts on obesity or the makers of Nintendo and other video games often blamed for today's inactive children; it's not even, necessarily, the obese kids themselves, especially the younger ones.

It's their parents. It should be no surprise that often obese children have obese moms or dads. No, it's not genetic - like childhood obesity, adult obesity in the United States has only skyrocketed relatively recently. It's that the kids are eating everything in sight just like their parents, and it's mainly junk.

But, it's also true that lots of overweight kids don't have obese parents. So, what's a mom or dad to do? Well, drop the modern nonsense that you can't "make" your kids eat certain things because it will lead to eating disorders. Baloney. Have them eat vegetables, and lots of them, instead of more caloric, non-nutritious foods. Cut down on snacks and lunches at McDonald's so they' re hungry for those veggies and lean meats at dinner time. (Frozen vegetables are just fine, and may even be nutritionally superior to fresh vegetables, as their vitamins are preserved with them during freezing.) And don't get the kids in the habit of dessert every night.

Remember that "low-fat" is often a scam. Lots of low-fat items have tons of calories and aren't very satisfying anyway. Forget juice boxes unless it's something truly nutritious like orange juice, and limit those. (Apple juice is high calorie and useless from a health stand-point.) Switch to skim milk, which has a third fewer calories (and more calcium) than its "whole" counterpart. If you don't pack a lunch for your child, find out what's on the menu at school and don't shell out extra money for candy bars and desserts.

And yes, turn off the TV and Nintendo, and tell them to PLAY.

Sure, I have chicken nuggets and ice cream and cookies in my home. And these aren't some rare idolized treat. They are just balanced with lean meats and vegetables and skim milk and all the other things I also want my kids to grow to enjoy eating. The goal is not just a healthy weight now, but a lifetime of enjoying healthy, varied, eating habits.

By contrast, if we don't stop our kids from getting fatter, and faster than at any time in our history, we're not just irresponsible or contributing to their poor self-images; we're literally robbing them of their futures.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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