Potato, Two Potato . . .French Fries . . . Couch Potato?
By Michael Popkin, Ph.D.
daughter, Megan, was barely walking when my mother made the comment
that she seemed a little chubby. My wife and I naturally took great
offense at this slight to our first born and heretofore perfect
offspring, protesting that this was only a case of baby fat. My
mother quickly backed off, saying that chubby wasn't really fat,
chubby. Graciously we accepted her back-pedaling
and were pretty well mollified until an hour or so later when we
all settled back on the sofa after a big meal to watch TV. A few
minutes into the show, a clearly obese actress appeared on the screen
and my mother blurted out, "Wow, she sure is chubby."
is now seventeen and there isn't a chubby bone in her athletic body.
Our son, Ben, is thirteen and playing football at the flyweight
of a mere 76 pounds and wishes he could somehow put on a few pounds.
But they are getting to be more and more the exception. The American
Obesity Association reports that about 30% of children and teens
today are overweight, and that about half of those qualify as obese.
This is 2.5 times the rate it was just 30 years ago.
other problems, these kids are at higher risk for asthma, diabetes,
hypertension and orthopedic problemsnot to mention being teased
unmercifully by their peers. In a society that still overly glamorizes
model-like physiques as the sine qua non of physical beauty, this
can also lead to self-image issues, depression, and eating disorders.
Oh, and these kids are also at much greater risk at becoming overweight
and obese adults. Of course, by that time they will have lots of
company as the incidence of overweight adults is now up to almost
66%. That two-thirds of us fall into this category (I pause to pinch
my love handles, wondering if I qualify or not at 6'1" and
195 pounds) makes us wonder what has been going on in our society
the past 30 years thats making us so
can't blame increases of this magnitude on genetics, unless we have
become a nation of teenage mutant ninja butterballs.
evidence points more to lifestyle and diet. We have become a nation
of fast food junkies munching away at French fries and other high-carb
foods while frenetically on the go. Unfortunately, on the go in
this case does not usually include exercise. At thirteen I was usually
outside playing the sport du jour (basketball, baseball, football),
while nowadays my son would rather be inside on the couch mastering
the latest video game. I wonder how many calories one can burn defeating
Japanese martial arts villains in a video game?
have been teaching parents the importance of healthy activities
in Active Parenting programs since the beginning, stressing that
taking time for fun together is a great way to build relationships
and teach qualities of character.
worked in my family growing up, and I've tried hard to pass it along
to my children. My dad never seemed too busy to go outside and pass
the football with me, and I loved going with him to the golf course
for a round. At 84 he is still healthy enough to come to work (at
Active Parenting) three days a week and now I make time to play
golf with him. And when I want to get my son away from the video
games, one sure way is to offer to go outside and throw the football.
I even took him and dad to play golf recently.
wife sets an even better example for our children. Being a runner
and veteran of a dozen Peachtree Road Races, she has made exercise
and good diet a part of our family lifestyle. She even taught Megan
and Ben to like broccoli by serving it as an appetizer (when they
were the most hungry) as they grew up, and she's made sure that
our family vacations have routinely included mountain biking, hiking
and other physical activities. In this era of fast food and faster
living we need to follow such examples.
newest video, Encouraging Positive Activities, is part of the Families
series that features real parents talking about
ways they have tackled problems such as this one.
Other ideas from the American Obesity Association and Active Parenting
time for the entire family to participate in regular physical activities
like walking, biking or rollerblading.
-Assign active chores to each family member such as vacuuming, washing
the car or mowing the lawn
-Encourage your child to join a sports team at school or a recreation
-Limit the amount of screen time your child engages in (that includes
TV, video and computer time).
-Serve a healthy diet, limiting fried foods, sugar and other unhealthy
-Encourage your children to be part of the planning, preparation
and cooking of some of the meals.
-Eat more meals together at the dinner table at regular times.
-Have healthy snack food available such as fruits, vegetables and
-Avoid serving portions that are too large (and share overly large
portions when you eat out).
-Avoid forcing your child to eat when he/she is not hungry (If your
child is losing too much weight, consult a healthcare professional).
-Limit fast-food eating to no more than once a week (and don't supersize
-Avoid using food as a reward or lack of food as a punishment.
There is no real substitute for exercise and diet when it comes
to teaching our kids, and ourselves, how to have a healthy weight
in life. We teach our kids how to count by playing such games as
one potato, two potato
Now let's teach the whole family to
pass on the French fries and get off the couch. Otherwise, somebody's
mother is going to be calling all of us chubby pretty soon.
Michael Popkin, Ph.D. has authored and produced over thirty parenting
books and videos, such as Active Parenting Today and Active Parenting
of Teens. His newest book, 52 Weeks of Active Parenting, explains
how to use effective discipline and communication skills to help
families run more smoothly. For more information, visit www.activeparenting.com
with permission from Leader magazine. Copyright 2003 by Active Parenting