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How the Nanny State Is Making Child Obesity Worse

Nanny State Alert

Mounds of indisputable evidence are in and there is no debate!  The USA, in fact most of the world, is suffering from a childhood obesity crisis of epidemic proportions.  An epidemic that not only dooms its victims to a lifetime of chronic illness, psychological disorders and even early death, but one whose current and future costs are also posing a real economic threat to healthcare systems all over the world.  

According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, nearly 1/3 of all American children under the age of 18 are overweight or obese, and that number has grown by 10% every decade for the last 30 years.  Designed to Move, a recent physical activity action agenda created by Nike and The American College of Sports Medicine, estimates that today’s generation of American youth will be the first in our history that will not live longer lives than their parents. And, according to The Impact of Obesity on Health Service Utilization and Costs in Childhood Obesity, a 2009 study, the total direct healthcare costs attributable to childhood obesity in America alone is $14.1 billion per year, with healthcare costs for obese children nearly 48% higher than non-obese children.  

No, there is no longer any doubt about the staggering human and financial toll of this chronic illness.  It is deadly and it is getting worse!  However, there is plenty of debate about who’s responsible for solving the physical inactivity and diet issues which are routinely considered the primary drivers of this condition.  And, as it is prone to do with any issue which demands personal responsibility and accountability, the nanny state is doing its best to simply legislate solutions.  From taxes on ‘sugary drinks’ to ‘fast food free zones’ near schools, state and federal government is taking a stance on this issue which by design almost completely ignores the most critical influence in this battle…the role of the parent!

Standing on the demarcation line all too frequently crossed by big government, ask yourself the following questions.  Who is routinely determined to be responsible for kids brushing their teeth every day?  Who is responsible for kids doing their homework every night?  Kids obeying the law?  Getting enough sleep?  Taking a bath?  Ask any doctor, dentist, cop or teacher who needs to ‘take charge’ of a child’s behavior and you’ll get the same answer…the parents are responsible!  The government can pass all the laws they want regarding bedtime, without the demands of a parent, few children are headed to bed before passing out in front of an electronic device of some sort.  Yet, when it comes to meals and exercise, we need to depend on government intrusion and policymaking to ensure the right behaviors?  As the parent of two fit and active teenage children, I think not.  And, does anyone really believe that an extra 5 or 10 cents per Coca Cola, or an extra 5 minute drive or walk for a Big Mac is going to change anyone’s eating habits?  Really?

There is also a strong case to be made that our public education system, which over the last 30 years has offered up only one or two hours of gym class per week in most elementary schools, has already contributed to this dilemma by unintentionally deceiving parents into believing their children were getting ‘all the exercise they need’ at school.  Kids need a minimum of 60 minutes per day of exercise to be fit and healthy…not 1 or 2 hours per week!  And ironically, physical education is typically one of the few subjects in school that also issues no homework!  Our government can force any physical education requirements they want on schools, but without the guidance and inspiration of parents at home, and for 365 days per year, most overweight or inactive children will not benefit nearly enough to solve the problem.

This is not to say that some government policies and programs can’t be helpful, but by absolving parents of most of the responsibility for their children’s actions around this issue, whether by design, implication or ignorance, the nanny state is only making the childhood obesity epidemic worse!  As with most areas of behavior development, to be effective, most kids need their parents to be highly engaged and committed to providing an environment that encourages a healthy lifestyle.  Not sure where to start?  Take your child by the hand and go for a long walk…a walk that will benefit both of you far more than any tax law!

Doug Werner is a vice president for Glastonbury, CT based Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness, a parent of two teenage children and the author of ‘Abbie Gets Fit’, the critically acclaimed children’s book chronicling a true story about one nine year old girl’s journey to get fit with Doug…her dad. He is a member of The American College of Sports Medicine, a 35-year veteran of the fitness industry and a recipient of that industry’s Distinguished Service Award. He can be reached at doug [at] abbiegetsfit [dot] com. ‘Abbie Gets Fit’ is available at www.abbiegetsfit.com or www.amazon.com. 

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