In the state of Pennsylvania alone, 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese. There are a variety of factors that play a role in this but I am going to focus on one: the modern school day. From a young age, the kids are required to sit around in a classroom all day and do their work. Sitting becomes the norm for them. A good chunk of their time is spent on their butts. This is a health hazard. As you sit, your leg muscles are turned off. This not only causes a problem with the musculature but it also effects your lymphatics. The lymphatics are driven by muscular contraction. When you eliminate that by sitting idle, and you begin a cycle of events that will be detrimental to your health. Combine that with other factors like the tightening of muscles around the anterior hip, hamstring problems, and other issues surrounding the pelvic floor, this will wreak havoc on your posture. The only opportunity these kids get to move around is between classes and during the lunch period. I wonder how their diets are…
The diets match their activity levels: unhealthy. When you look into what kids are eating, it is no wonder the overweight and obesity numbers are high. This pertains to the active kids as well. I work with kids who work extremely hard in the weight room and in their given sport. When you ask them how they are eating, you often hear something like this…
The kid wakes up late at 6:45. They have about 20 minutes to get ready for school and grab a quick bite before the bus comes. After deciding between frozen waffles, cocoa puffs, and pop tarts, the kid makes a decision. He grabs some pop tarts and rushes out the door. Talk about a spike in blood sugar. “Breakfast” was eaten at 7:05. Now, the kid doesn’t eat again until lunch. The lunch period for him begins at 11. And guess what is on the menu today? IT IS PIZZA HUT DAY! This calls for a double, maybe even a triple order, of that nutritious (yea right) lunch. It is now around 11:30 and they are done with their lunch. They finish up the school day then head off to practice. Practice starts at 3:15 so they decide to not eat anything after school. They don't want to feel crappy at practice.. Practice was a tough one today and doesn’t end until 5:30. By the time you get home and shower up, it is already after 6. This kid hasn’t eaten anything since 11:30. This is 7 whole hours of no food consumption. For an active kid, this is way too long. Combine that with the fact that they have eaten nothing with any nutritional value all day!. Lets hope the dinner is a healthy one. After doing a little homework, the kid goes to bed and the process repeats itself all over.
Where are the kids supposed to learn about healthy lifestyle choices? The obvious answer would be at home. But when they spend a majority of their waking hours in a place that is designed to educate, shouldn’t the school be set up a little differently? Are Health and Physical Education programs doing the job they were designed to do? Looking at the overweight and obesity statistics, they are not. The kids may not know learn how to live a healthy lifestyle but they can play a mean game of kickball and badminton. It is not only the teachers but the coaches too. Most male high school students want to "bulk up" so they consume a wide variety of crap that is designed to pack on muscle. We are all failing to inform children on the role diet plays. This is crucial because overweight kids will become overweight adults. It is why it is so important to never let it happen in the first place!
Below I have listed some of the potential outcomes of a child who is overweight or obese. Some of these issues can damage a person for their entire life!
Potential Negative Psychological Outcomes:
This is a bit of an uphill battle as a lot of damage has been done. But like every other great change, it begins with one person. As the Tolstoy quote goes, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." If you are a parent, setting a positive example for your children can change their life for the better. If you are a coach, lead by example and don't demand things "because I said so". Show them the importance of physical fitness by your actions. If you are a teacher, you are with students for the most hours during the school day. Get your classes up and moving more regularly throughout the day. Make an effort to have healthier lunches available to children. Offer support to those who may need some additional guidance. And lastly, live your life in healthy manner so that these kids can see that, and realize that is not a bad way to live!
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!