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One of the saddest things I currently see in health care is America's childhood obesity epidemic. Our children are suffering from illnesses they simply shouldn't have because they live unhealthy lifestyles. There are numerous schools of thought as to why childhood obesity is such an epidemic, but the bottom line is this: Our kids are our future, and as healthcare professionals we have a responsibility to teach them how to make the right food and lifestyle choices.
Let's review childhood obesity first, because the numbers are frightening. According to the CDC, the facts show us that obesity has increased from 7 percent to 18 percent in children, and from 5 percent to 18 percent in adolescents from 1980 to 2010. Over a third of our children are overweight or obese. The CDC states that the primary cause of this epidemic is what we nurses call “caloric imbalance.” Our kids are eating too much and not burning it off; however, other causes might include behavioral, environmental, and genetic factors.
We in the health care industry see what happens to our obese kids and it's truly disheartening. Obese children are more likely to suffer from serious illness, such as cardiovascular disease. Can you imagine? A 5-year-old suffering from high blood pressure or cholesterol? Well, I bet you've seen it; I know I have. Additional health concerns are bone and joint problems due to the excess weight, as well as pre-diabetes. I won't even get into the self-esteem and psychological problems overweight kids suffer from - it's just too depressing. So, let's cheer this post up a bit and talk about what we can do about it!
Campaigns for Good Health
Pediatric and school nurses are logically the most involved in promoting good health to kids, but our First Lady, Michelle Obama, is lending a helping hand as well with her “Let's Move” campaign. The children's network Nickelodeon has jumped on the bandwagon with its “Let's Just Play” Go Healthy challenge, and we can do a ton to get our kids active, happy, and back down to a healthy weight.
First of all, we need to support our school nurses and get junk food out of our kid's school cafeterias, period. There's no excuse for kids eating foods equivalent to McDonald's at school. Kids are taught health education in school, and the schools should be held accountable to put their teaching where their mouths are - so to speak. School cafeterias need to be pressed to serve healthy nutritional lunches and snacks. If your children are being fed junk food at their school, talk to the school's nurse, petition your school district, or pack your kid a healthy lunch instead.
While we're at it, what's happening to recess and PE classes?! They are being shortened or cut all together from our kid's curriculum, and this needs to be stopped. Kids need to be outside playing - and that includes at home, too, mom and dad. Turn off the video game console and toss your kids outside! If your school has cut recess and PE, get involved and get it back.
As health care professionals, we have a responsibility to live by example and we should never forget that. Our responsibility to our kids goes beyond medical exams. We need to teach our kids how to live a healthy lifestyle, including diet, exercise, and proper hydration. We need to instill a few things into our own lives and teach them to our kids and patients. How do we do that?
Simple Steps to Promote Good Health
- Print out, magnet to the fridge, and post in our offices the new FDA food guide pyramid. Remember nurses, this pyramid has been revised to help all of us adopt healthier eating habits; what we once thought was healthy isn't!
- Teach all kids the importance of healthy eating. Get your hands on nutritional pamphlets that give your patients easily digestible - pardon the pun - information about healthy food choices. Include some recipes and suggested grocery shopping lists. It's not that hard; make sure your patients know that!
- Live by example. No more stopping at a fast food joint or ordering pizza when you get home. Get a crock pot, put a healthy meal in it before you go to work, and ensure everyone is eating healthy when your shift is over.
- Get out and play! Get the kids outdoors. Remember spending ALL DAY outside when we were kids. Remember how much fun that was? Why aren't we making sure America's kids do the same? Come on! Turn off the TV, grab the basketball, and go to the park. You'll have fun, too.
- Drink water! No more sodas, no more sugar-laden juices, no more excuses! Make sure kids are getting enough water each day. Dehydration makes you want to eat, so a hungry kid might simply be a thirsty kid, and avoiding the extra snacks helps avoid obesity.
These are just a few things we can do as nurses, parents, and people who are concerned about kids' health. No child's body should have to endure the stress put upon its systems by excess weight. No child should have to endure the bullying and teasing “fat kids” suffer. As adults and health care professionals we can stop this epidemic. So, come on! Let's promote good health to our kids!
Please see the links below for more information on the issues discussed in this blog post: