do your kids -
make the grade?
by Penny M. Hagerman
When it comes to health and physical fitness, the majority of our
nation's children no longer "make the grade," according to a study
by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study, which examined fifth- and seventh-graders in Georgia,
indicates that our kids are not only too heavy; they're also grossly
out of shape. In fact, 30 percent of those surveyed were overweight
with a body mass index (BMI) outside the healthy range, which
experts now know leads to poor health later in life.
Other significant findings you may not be aware of:
- More than 9 million U.S. children are overweight.
- Being overweight as a child significantly increases the risk
of heart disease in adulthood (as early as age 25).
- A reduction in physical activity during adolescence leads to
increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease, high blood
pressure and other weight-related and possibly life-threatening
- Adolescents who are overweight between the ages of seven and
13 are much more likely to remain unhealthy and overweight as
Taking a long, hard look
So why are our kids missing the mark when it comes to health? Why
are they failing tests of physical strength, endurance and
flexibility their counterparts of years ago passed with flying
colors—and ending up with life-long disease and disability that
might have otherwise been avoided?
Here's why: modern children and teens spend more time online,
camped in front of the television and simply "vegging out" around
the house than ever before in history. With decreased physical
activity levels, higher caloric and fat intake from convenience and
junk food, and poor nutrition habits part of everyday life, health
and well-being are being sacrificed—and health affected forever.
Reversing these trends, doctors say, begins at home. Research
shows that the more time parents spend teaching their kids good
nutrition and engaging in aerobic, physical activity with them, the
more likely their kids will carry good habits and a healthy
lifestyle into adulthood.
Since even a few additional pounds increases risk, this provides
much-needed incentive for those desiring to reverse the ill effects
of extra weight and ensure long, productive lives for their
Tips for helping overweight kids get healthy
Overweight and obese kids carry social, psychological and
emotional burdens that often lead to anger, despair and a sedentary
lifestyle. And when overweight kids become overweight adults, the
cost of health care and medical insurance is negatively affected as
But by following these tips that help improve quality of life,
parents can start kids on the path to health, productivity—and
cheaper health insurance rates.
- Become a role model of overall health and well being. Since
your kids are likely to emulate your behavior, setting a good
example makes them more likely to carry good habits through to
- Foster a positive atmosphere that's safe and inviting,
comforting and encouraging, and free of weight-related sarcasm.
This enables kids to share their feelings freely and avoid
starting destructive habits that may prove damaging to their
- Emphasize your children's strengths. Praise them for the
things they're good at and avoid focusing on areas of weakness.
- Concentrate on behavior, rather than outcome. What really
matters is making the right choices and following through with
- Don't deny or ignore the obvious. If your child is packing
on the pounds, acknowledge it—and work with him or her to remedy
the situation before it gets further out of control.
- Develop a support network. Get your overweight child
socially involved in situations with other overweight kids. This
helps them identify with others without feeling ostracized or
- Avoid the spotlight. Don't put overweight kids in situations
where their physical performance is on display. This leads to
embarrassment and, often, withdrawal.
- Take your overweight child to a doctor for physical
assessment. Professional advice will help you determine his best
route to a healthy life.
- Teach your children good nutrition. Most overweight kids
have no idea how to make wise food choices, dish appropriate
serving sizes or learn to recognize when they're actually full.
- Reduce screen time. Many overweight kids spend too much time
surfing the Internet and playing video games, and too little
time participating in sports, walking the dog or getting other
Overweight kids and health insurance
In an effort to encourage parents to work toward healthy
lifestyles with their children, some major insurance companies now
offer financial reimbursement that pays for a number of visits to
the doctor and a dietician each year.
Ask your health insurance company about these benefits, and use
them to your advantage in helping your kids—and you—stay slim,
healthy and strong.
Making positive change
If your kids don't score an A+ on health, it's never too late to
make positive change. So them up off the couch and get them moving!