Unhealthy lifestyles endanger generation

Campus Times
September 22, 2000

by Alisha Rosas
Editorial Director

She is out of breath. Sweat beads her forehead. She stops running and holds her chest with a small, pudgy hand. Her 8-year-old heart is working too hard for her unexercised body. The fact that she weighs close to 100 lbs. does not work to her favor either. She is not alone.

As a child, I was pudgy. I admit it. The "big boned" description my grandmother gave me grew old with time, and I lost the weight. Now, as an adult, I cannot help but notice the eating disorders, problems and struggles children have to deal with in terms of weight gain and control.

By the government's estimate, 6 million American children are fat enough to endanger their health. That means that one child in three is now either overweight or is at risk at becoming so. This does not include obesity caused by genetics. However, it does include the millions of parents not doing their jobs in terms of feeding their children.

This dramatic increase in weight gain among youngsters has nothing to do with a "fat breed" of children being conceived. Instead, it is how we feed and motivate our youth that forces them into bigger sizes.

We are living in a society in which fast food dinners and sweets are quick fixes replacing the meals our children need to live healthy lifestyles. Taco Bell's slogan, "It's Late, Eat More" is the perfect example of how Americans are drawn to eating. The health-food craze has been placed to the back burner and now when we're hungry, we want something fast. Why get the kitchen dirty, when a cheese burger Happy Meal only costs $2.15?

It is not like I do not fully understand and support dual-income families. My future will probably include juggling a busy family environment and a career. However, my children's health will always come first. That is part of the parental commitment.

I just do not understand how parents can feel good about feeding junk food to their offspring. The calories alone should be a warning sign. For example, a traditional McDonald's hamburger, 16-ounce Coke and small fries (a typical Happy Meal) carries 627 calories and a total of 19 grams of fat. It is because of meals like that that the percentage of American children who are overweight has more than doubled since the 1960s.

I will admit that there are other factors involved in this problem and the parents are not the only ones to blame for their overweight children. Physical education in schools is another example. Fewer than half the nation's schools offer P.E. I cannot help but wonder if sitting on the bleachers still counts as participation. Teachers need to get these children moving, sweating and participating in outdoor activities.

If not for the self-esteem of the child, parents should fight the fat to avoid the future health problems caused by obesity. Illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and several cancers are problems children should not be concerned about.

So what can be done to help our children? First of all, leading by example always proves successful. If your child is heavy, lose weight together. Change eating habits, exercise and set goals with one another.

By all means turn off the television, or at least set limits in regard to how many hours a week your child is allowed to sit hypnotized and lifeless.

Support your children. After all, it is not their fault that we live in a mixed Slim-Fast generation, one in which no one is quite sure how "curvy" or "skinny" to be due to the constant changes of society's expectations. Losing weight is not an easy thing to do. The last thing a child needs to hear is a negative comment about how fat he/she is.

The key to promoting a change in the unhealthy lifestyles of America's children is to focus on the health aspect instead of merely on the appearance or number of pounds lost. Our children are our future, why not do everything within our power to keep them happy and healthy?

Alisha Rosas, a junior journalism major, is editorial director of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at rosasa@ulv.edu.