Thursday, September 22, 2011

September: Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Today, more than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States are obese or overweight. Health and medical experts are now labeling child obesity an epidemic.  Childhood obesity puts nearly one-third of America’s children at early risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke.  September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, giving elected officials, educators, physicians, and readers like you the opportunity to take a stand and fight childhood obesity. 

There are plenty of sources out there telling you how to raise your children. I don't have children of my own, so I feel I am in no position to tell you how to raise yours. However, I was definitely part of the child obesity statistics, and I can speak from personal experience.

Maple Shade Softball- 8 Years Old
As a child, I recall one moment on the scale in particular. In forth grade, we were doing a gymnastics unit in gym class. I was so excited because my younger sister was in gymnastics, and I was dying to try it. I'm not sure why, but before the tumbling unit, all the students were weighed. I stood in line patiently--  back when I was too young to have scale anxiety. The number on the scale still sticks with me... 146 pounds... I was 146 pounds in 4th grade?! Granted, I was about 5 foot tall, but still... I get sad thinking about it. That gym unit is when my weight was brought to my attention. I remember the gym teacher's surprise when she read the number on the scale; that's when I knew I wasn't like everyone else. When we finally got to the trampoline and tumbling activities I was so anxious to try, I recall the teacher telling me that I was too big-- she couldn't spot me doing a flip. I was crushed. At eight years old, I was "too big."

Growing up as "the fat kid" has really impacted who I am today. Growing up, there were a number of children that made my life hell as I was their target everyday for any weight-related insult, whether it was ridiculing the size of my lunch box or whether I packed a cookie for a snack. Their taunting continued until I graduated high school. I couldn't go to gym class without the girls reminding me about my weight with such comments as, "You need to call Jenny [Craig]!" or acting as though the ground was shaking when I walked past them. I still cannot forgive those girls for how terrible they made me feel.

Senior Year of High School
Now, despite losing 85 pounds, I still live with what I have labeled as "fat-phobia." For instance, I find myself determining if I'm the fattest person in the room. I cannot be the first in the buffet line and will never eat the last of something. I check the weight requirements on amusement rides, rafts, etc. I hate sitting in an aisle at a restaurant and feeling like I'm sticking out in people's way. I could go on and on. Looking back, I can't help but wonder what life would have been like growing up "average" sized. My mom tried-- I remember following whatever diet she went on. As a kid, I did Weight Watchers, tried Metabolife herbal supplements, and tons of other diets. I hated the word "diet." I remember when my mom forced me to cut chocolate and potato chips out of my diet. I lost 30 pounds in a summer! I was so proud of myself.  Unfortunately, that success was short lived. As I got older, I was gaining at least 20 pounds a summer. It wasn't until over halfway through college that I was so scared of the scale that I decided to make a change. At almost 250 pounds, I had had enough.

When I think back and wish my parents had done more to help me with my weight, I cannot help but struggle to come up with a solution. It's not easy once you get far enough into the problem. There's a new children's book out called, "Maggie goes on a Diet." It's meant to help children with weight issues. It's one approach, but this book is definitely not what I had in mind. Using the term "diet" with a child puts all kinds of body image pressures on them that they don't need. We should be teaching our kids healthy eating habits-- they should understand the concept of a "treat." We should limit TV/video game time to get them out of the house and playing. Get them involved in something active that they love, like sports, dance, biking, cheerleading, etc. Take them to the park instead of a movie. Treat them to toys or activities instead of food. There are tons of changes that could be made before the problem gets out of hand. I just wish I could save the 23 million obese children from the humiliation and pain I endured growing up. I wish I made the decision to  live a healthy life much sooner.

Thanks for listening today. Remember, you too can do your part to take a stand against childhood obesity. Help save our children.  

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