- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: Out-of-shape kids

What do children need most from their parents? Love, time and direction.

A recent New York Times article highlights the decline of family togetherness. Many families spend most of their leisure time plugged in - to separate channels, websites or play lists - even when they’re together. It’s a trend that not only deprives our children of meaningful time and guidance but also worsens their health.

More children than ever suffer from weight problems, plus the host of emotional and physical problems that result. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 18 percent of teenagers weigh in as obese, not just overweight. The statistics are even more disturbing for younger children: A full 20 percent of children ages 6 to 12 are obese.

Add in the additional numbers of children who are overweight, and the total becomes disheartening: Roughly one-third of all children today are overweight or obese.

This extra weight adds up to long-term consequences. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a child who is obese at age 13 “has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.” Children who are overweight are more likely to feel depressed, suffer lower self-esteem and become isolated and sad. Increasingly, children require treatment for what used to be middle-age problems tied to sedentary lifestyles: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

When I was growing up, children played actively for hours without a second thought. Not so today.

Technology’s a tough competitor for our children’s time, but the real problem is not technology itself - it’s parenting. A 2011 study published in the journal Child Development, for example, links childhood obesity to maternal employment - the more hours a mother works, the more likely it is that her child will be overweight. The lack of time together results in lost opportunities for guidance and oversight, not just in moral or academic areas, but also in the basics of healthy living.

Our children need us to model good eating habits, teach them to choose healthy foods and get them up and moving.

We need to do these things together, with our children, if we want them to succeed.

How to Save Your Family: Enjoy Fun and Fitness Together

This month sees the launch of a fantastic new initiative - the Together Counts movement, started by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. It aims to bring families together, all across the country, toward a common goal: healthier living. Its method is simple. Families make a practical commitment to eat a specific number of meals together each week and to spend a similar amount of time in physical activity together. Balance is the byword - time spent in physical activity together balances out the time spent eating together. Calories in, calories out.

This wonderful program (free and online at www.TogetherCounts.com) offers an effective way for parents to model healthy living and guide their children toward good food choices. More important, by purposely creating family time, it builds stronger family relationships as well as stronger bodies.

Fun and engaging, the Together Counts website sports an interactive map that shows progress and comments from families across the country. The program contains built-in incentives to help families fulfill their pledge and track their progress. Within the site, families have the chance to share their fitness tips and ideas for a healthy lifestyle. There’s a bit of healthy competition as well - the Together Counts website posts “leader boards” detailing top city, state and national participants.

The program has generated partnerships with an impressive number of sports organizations, food and beverage distributors, retailers, companies and schools.

Visit TogetherCounts.com today and catch the spirit - together we can strengthen our families and create healthy lifestyles that will benefit our children in countless ways. It’s a gift of our love, time and direction.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at Rebecca @howtosave yourfamily.com.

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