Kids & Obesity: Two Things Don’t Belong Together

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Truth be told: I was a fat kid. I was called names and made fun of in elementary school. It’s a painful childhood memory.

I don’t remember my parents or doctor talking to me about my weight (they may have). I do remember earning “clean plate club” honors a lot. As I was starting high school, I’d had it with shopping in the Sears section for heavy kids. I was missing out and unhappy about my weight. I didn’t lose it in the best way (I remember Tab and those old Weight Watchers chocolate squares), but did drop 25 pounds before 9th grade.

Yes, those were different times, and salt-laden casseroles and sugary Jell-O were staples at family gatherings and church dinners. At home, Durkee french fried onion rings and shoestring potato sticks in a can were always in the cupboard . . . to top off those casseroles.  They were ready-to-eat bad snacks I grabbed for instant “food.”

As I got older, I learned more about unhealthy habits. Given my experience, I cringed when I read the latest stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: more than one third of U.S. children and teens are overweight or obese, and obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the last 30 years!

Sadly, a New England Journal of Medicine article says the road to obesity starts before age 5.

Childhood obesity is more upsetting because the extra pounds often start kids on the path to health problems that were once only adult issues, like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And as I know, it can also affect self-esteem.

How can we help our kids?

via KidsHealth.org

via KidsHealth.org

It may come as no surprise that new guidelines published last Monday, June 29, by the American Academy of Pediatrics say we need to focus on prevention.

This starts by understanding when a child is considered obese—when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height, as measured by body mass index (BMI). The standards are:

  • Overweight = BMI-for-age between 85th and 94th percentiles
  • Obese = BMI-for-age 95th percentile or above

(You can use this tool from Kid’s Health to check your children.)

Make better food choices and exercise

vegetablesOne of the best strategies to prevent childhood obesity is to lead by example, improving diet and exercise habits of your whole family.

Most of us know to buy fewer sweetened beverages (sodas, juice and sports drinks) and not stock junk food in the house (or buy it in bulk!). We’ve also heard about First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative stressing physical activity and the recommended 60 minutes of active play time day.

So how do we put good habits into practice? A few practical tips:

  • Don’t ban junk food outright. Instead, limit the number of treats kids are allowed to eat. That way, kids aren’t as tempted to want what they can’t have or overeat when it’s offered by someone else.
  • Keep fresh fruit in reach to grab as a quick snack. Put higher-calorie foods in the back of the frig or pantry. Get good frozen and canned fruits and vegetables (no and no sugar or salt) when fresh isn’t available.
  • via LetsMove.org

    via LetsMove.org

    Make an effort to limit technology time for kids to no more than 2 hours a day, including computers, videos, games, watching TV. Turn off the TV during family meals to prevent distracted eating (and more) – Have you seen Dixie’s Dark for Dinner ads?

  • Plan activities that give everyone exercise, like walking, biking and swimming. Turn a walk after dinner into a family affair.
  • Make sure your kids get enough sleep, since studies suggest there’s a link between obesity and insufficient sleep.

For more: check out these 10 healthy eating tips and take advantage of the thousands of healthy MyPlate recipes on Pinterest.

Physician education

We now know doctors have to get more involved. While weight is an uncomfortable and awkward topic to tackle, physicians need to address it during children’s visits.

kids running 11578647Recent collaborative research between Caroline Shue, associate professor of communication studies at Ball State University and the IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Family Medicine Residency Center found a hesitancy to discuss weight is compounded by a disconnect with the reason for the visit (e.g., an ear infection for a “solid” child) as well as a lack of doctors’ training and consistent clinic practices to calculate BMI and chart discussions with patients.

The research identified several good ways to fix the problems, including:  targeted training programs for doctors; and doctor’s offices documenting patients’ height, weight, and BMI more frequently and regularly.

Support nonprofits making a difference

We can all help charities working to get kids more active and prevent obesity. Here are three with programs designed to do just that, operating across the country:

American Heart Association
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Boys & Girls Clubs of America
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YMCA of the USA
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We’ve come a long way since I was a little girl, and I’m encouraged by all the attention, education and resources that exist now. Let’s step up, so other kids can skip all the bad stuff that comes from carrying too much weight. Here’s to preventing childhood obesity, and raising healthier future generations!

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

Help Hungry American Children

image source: flickr

image source: flickr

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized how much children rely on adults for help. In the best cases, a child has parents and a loving extended family, and wants for nothing. In the worst cases, a child has a neglectful family, and doesn’t get basic needs met, emotionally or physically.

Some children have loving parents who work their hardest, but still can’t make ends meet. Many lost their jobs when the economy crashed, and providing essentials for their children became next to impossible. I can only imagine what it might be like to not be able to meet my child’s needs: I would be devastated. For families like these —including 16 million kids (one of every 5 children nationwide)—hunger is a very real concern.

Children have no control over their situation. When their parents can’t provide for their basic needs, it is our responsibility to step in and help. According to No Kid Hungry, nearly half of the recipients of food stamps are children. About 9.8 million kids get free or reduced price breakfast at school, but 10.6 million eligible children receive nothing. And of the children who receive reduced price lunches, only one in seven receives breakfast during the summer.

The impact of hunger on children is distressing, according to Feeding America:

  • Kids who face hunger are 90 percent more likely to have their overall health rated as “fair/poor,” and face increased hospitalizations, developmental problems, and illnesses.
  • Ninety percent of teachers say that a healthy breakfast is key to academic achievement. Hungry children are unable to concentrate, have poor academic performance, and complain of headaches and stomach aches.
  • Childhood hunger is linked to significant health problems in adulthood.

It is heartbreaking to think that millions of American children go to bed hungry every night, only to wake up to no breakfast. The good news is this: You can help.

Raise Awareness. Did you know how dire the hunger problem is? I certainly didn’t, and chances are, you have friends and family who don’t know either. Talk about it! Tell your loved ones. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter. Start a conversation.

Donate. There are a lot of charities doing fantastic work to fight hunger in the United States. And surprisingly, it takes very little to make a huge impact. For example, a donation of just $46 to No Child Hungry can feed a child for an entire year. And $25 to Feeding America provides an incredible 200 meals for hungry families.

Tomorrow, when you have your breakfast – whether it’s a bagel on the run, or a French toast feast – think about the kids who have nothing, and make a decision to help. Forfeit just one meal at a restaurant in favor of a meal at home, and donate the difference—you’ll help a lot of hungry kids. Just imagine their smiles, and how grateful they’ll be to have food to eat.

Donate Now
—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager

Talk early, talk often: Teach your children to avoid sexual assault

As a woman, it’s hard to grow up without exposure to sexual violence of some kind. While I was lucky to get out of my early childhood unscathed, I experienced sexual harassment from several peers beginning in middle school, and was involved in a verbally abusive relationship in high school, which led to choosing a verbally abusive marriage.

Even as I was making poor decisions in partners, my inner voice wondered, “Why am I doing this?” Pushing aside our inner voice is, I believe, one of the key reasons why I and so many other women find ourselves in the less-than-ideal situations that lead to sexual assault.

Sexual Assault is an umbrella term, which includes child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact (touching or grabbing), unwelcome exposure of another’s body (exhibitionism), domestic violence, and rape. This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The ultimate goal: raise our children with the core values that help them avoid sexual assault.

Encourage healthy sexuality at a young age

An awareness of what is wrong starts with an understanding about what’s right. And this, parents, is up to you. Sexuality needs to be discussed many, many times: think of it more as a series of moments where you can educate your kids, not one Big Talk. If you’re wondering how to educate your kids about sexuality, check out this great healthy sexuality PDF from National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).

It’s important to keep these conversations age appropriate, addressing different topics at each age. NSVRC offers another helpful PDF with an excellent chart to help parents understand what’s “normal” for sexual development at various ages, and which conversations to have.

A few months ago, we talked about how to protect our children from sexual abuse. You may want to revisit that post for tips about prevention.

Talking to your kids about sexuality is only part of the issue, though. My father was an OB/GYN and my mother a nurse, so I grew up knowing “the birds and the bees.” Yet, I still didn’t make good decisions.

Teach your children that they own their own bodies

At my daughter’s second birthday party, a friend tried to force her daughter to hug mine. My little girl is very shy, didn’t know this girl very well, and didn’t want to. My response? “You don’t have to hug anyone you don’t want to.” It is very important to me that my daughter knows that she owns her body and makes all decisions concerning it. This means she doesn’t have to hug or kiss anyone she doesn’t want to, even if I’m worried the other person might be offended.

While well-intentioned parents have a tendency to force their kids to hug or kiss their friends or grandparents, this practice can send an unintended, detrimental message to kids: Push aside your own feelings to make someone else happy. This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so ‘he’ll like me’ and kids enduring bullying because everyone is ‘having fun.’

If your children are huggers, teach them to ask others for permission to hug (“May I hug you?”). If you would like for them to hug Grandma, you can say: “I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won’t make you do it.” Teach them to respond with a hug, or a “no, thank you.” And mean what you say—don’t let any child feel disappointment or resentment from you. Explain your reasoning to family members, and remind them it’s not personal. Every child goes through stages where they don’t want to offer affection.

This is hardest for me as a parent, actually—I constantly want to kiss my daughter’s adorable little face, and at two, she often responds with a firm, “NO MOMMY!” Not wanting to squelch her currently strong inner voice, I usually respond with, “that’s okay, honey, it’s your body.”

Read more on this topic at CNN: I Don’t Own My Child’s Body

Understand and talk to your kids about teen relationship violence

After years of bullying during middle school, I was desperate for acceptance. When my family and I moved to another state during my junior year in high school, I became involved with a verbally abusive boyfriend. Though the relationship lasted only four months, the damage lasted much longer—and led me to a verbally abusive marriage. While it is embarrassing for me to admit I didn’t value myself, I know that I’m not alone. By talking about it, I hope to help more young girls understand the long-term repercussions of their choices.

Talking with your children about healthy relationships is extremely important—second only to modeling good relationships. If you are not in a healthy relationship, your children are more likely to choose unhealthy relationships for themselves.

So how do you teach your kids about healthy relationships? Point out loving interactions, examples of good communication, and healthy boundaries when you see them, both in the media and in life. And point out examples of unhealthy interactions when you see them, as well.

Sit down and talk to your kids, long before they start dating. Not sure what to say? Love is Respect’s guide to Healthy Relationships is a good place to start the conversation.

If you suspect that your child is already in an unhealthy relationship, check out Love is Respect’s “Help Your Child.” This can be a very tricky situation to navigate, so if you need help, definitely get it — from a hotline, a counselor, or a domestic violence counselor.

Domestic violence and teen relationship violence can be difficult to understand if you haven’t been through it yourself. I encourage you to look at the warning signs of abuse, and the Power and Control Wheel.

Donate Now

Concerned and involved parents are key: what we teach our children truly can prevent sexual assaults. In addition, the wonderful charities mentioned in this post provide a wealth of information. Please donate now to help spread the word, fund research, and provide resources to parents, kids, and affected adults.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center is the voice behind Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and offers a wealth of information for preventing sexual violence. Brought to you by Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR).
Donate Now

 

KidPower teaches positive, practical personal safety skills to protect people of all ages and abilities from bullying, molestation, abduction, and other violence.
Donate Now

 

Love is Respect is a great resource to for engaging, educating and empowering young adults about how to prevent and end abusive relationships. Brought to you by Break the Cycle.
Donate Now

—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager

Make a Difference for Children

Photo Credit: Allison Shelley (All Rights Reserved)

This past weekend, I lowered our eight-month old son’s crib since he is beginning to pull up on the rails. I know what you’re thinking…those folks at JustGive do nothing but party.

We’re in a mad dash to child proof our house–cordoning off areas, stopping up outlets, replacing curtain cords. Our son is making his first attempts at crawling, flapping around on his stomach like a happy, smiling fish. As with everything he does, it’s amazing.

With summer in full swing, some of us at JustGive are taking advantage of the extra daylight to enjoy a few extra moments with the little ones in our lives. It makes sense that July would be National Make a Difference to Children Month.

This observance gives us the chance to reflect on how each of us can change a child’s life. There are many ways to make a difference, including: volunteering as a mentor, tutoring a child or signing a petition to advocate for children’s rights. One way that extends far beyond your arm’s reach is to support an organization working to improve the lives of children…every day.

Whether you already involved with an organization or need some guidance (visit the JustGive Guide for great ideas!), JustGive can help you celebrate this month generously. If you’re interested in helping disabled, disadvantaged or sick children and their families or supporting art, sports or outdoor experiences for them, it’s easy, online, to find and give to a charity working throughout the country or even in your local community.

Personally, one of my favorite youth programs is Omega Boys Club/Street Soldiers.

Teen program offers a different path

Photo Credit: Street Soldiers

In 1987, Dr. Joseph Marshall, a middle school teacher, and Jack Jacqua, a school counselor, started Omega Boys Club/Street Soldiers with the idea that well-intentioned prevention programs for children were not enough to address the ingrained culture of violence in their lives. To keep young people alive and unharmed by violence and free from incarceration, Street Soldiers provide young people with the opportunity and support to build positive lives for themselves and move into contributing roles in society.

Photo Credit: Street Soldiers

Marshall and Jacqua spread the Street Soldiers approach throughout local communities by training hundreds of interveners in community organizations and public schools. They also reached out through their radio show and contacted policymakers who are helping make the Street Soldiers methods the norm in violence prevention.

To date, Street Soldiers can claim 141 college graduates (another 60 Omegas are in colleges across the country), 63 nationwide projects which use their violence prevention methods, and 13 radio station affiliates which carry the Street Soldiers syndicated radio program.

But the numbers don’t adequately show the organization’s impact. The Potrero Review (San Francisco, CA) summarized:

“If Omega Boys Club had a poster child, it’d be Andre Aikins. Aikins grew up in Oakland and found himself entangled in the world of gangs and violence. His tough attitude and disinterest in education got him kicked out of numerous public schools. But his life changed when he met Marshall at a high school assembly.

Aikins was skeptical but intrigued by Marshall’s refrain of “If you knew what I knew, you wouldn’t do what you do.” Aikins confronted Marshall after the assembly and demanded to know what he meant. Marshall said he’d show him, and brought Aikins to Omega. Shortly after, Aikins became a regular participant, and with the help of the Academy, he received his GED and attended college on an Omega scholarship. After graduating with a degree in Math Education, Aikins got a job teaching at a middle school that’d kicked him out years before, and eventually became the school’s Vice Principal.

Today, Aikins is Omega’s Operations Manager. Aikins wears crisp, white sneakers and thin-framed glasses. His tattoos peek out of a tucked-in polo shirt. “I wouldn’t have the life I have now if it weren’t for Omega,” he said. “I had to give back in the way it was given to me.” Aikins isn’t the only one to stay loyal to the program; two other former students also serve on the board.”

My baby boy may only be about to crawl, but every day I work at being that positive force in his life that guides him in the right direction. He is also the reason why I support organizations like Omega Boys Club/Street Soldiers with big ideas to make the lives of all children better.

What’s your favorite children’s charity? Visit us on Facebook and share your story.

Pass this on to friends and family who care about making a difference for children.