Charlie Kuntzleman on Obesity

Last March a dear friend of mine from California called me and asked me to write to the first lady about my getting involved in her childhood obesity campaign. He said he had someone who would deliver my ideas to her. I was flattered. After two months of thinking about it, talking to colleagues and writing drafts I bagged the idea. The reasons:

Childhood obesity is exceedingly complex, and bureaucracies tend not to do well with complex issues, even if part of the solution is obvious. Just look at these complexities.
1) Our culture is so advanced that it screams sedentary behavior for youth. There’s excessive screen time, few physical family chores, minimal outdoor free play and erosion of daily physical education. According to a study I did almost 30 years ago with the Kellogg Foundation, the average child gets lets than 15 minutes of vigorous activity a day. And most of us suspect that activity levels of youth have decreased even more so in the past three decades.
2) Recreational activities have either been abandoned in some communities or so structured that either only the best get to play or kids (who are still kids) are turned off by all the competition. In Detroit, one would expect about 50,000 children playing softball in recreation leagues, in reality less than 2,000 do.
3) The amount of food readily available to young people is astounding. There’s fast food, candy bars, healthy food, school lunch/breakfast programs and the ever present soda pop. The average child drinks at least 20 ounces a day.
4) Parents are overly protective of their children. Here is an “over the top” example. I heard a parent say on “talk radio” that she felt her children should not be required to walk with their Halloween costumes from class to a class. The reason: it was too demanding for her kindergarten and first grader.
There are many more reasons including kids preparing their own food because both parents are working, government programs which are at cross purposes with one another and kids no longer walking to and from school. There are also health promotion professionals who argue about classifying youth as overweight or obese since some fear that calling a child obese/overweight might affect their self esteem.

What frustrates me is that we already have a system with facilities and personnel in place able to help solve the problem without any government intrusion. It is called, are you ready for this? Daily physical education! Not just the stand around kind, but programs designed to get kids moving now and, most importantly, in the future. When people say we don’t have time in the school day to add an hour a day for physical education demonstrates my point of why I did not send the proposal to Michele Obama.

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