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July 27, 2010 > Let's get moving!

Let's get moving!

By Alyson Whitaker
Photos By Alyson Whitaker

As I sat in our pediatrician's office this past spring with my almost four-year-old son Grant, I was shocked to hear the news-his weight had jumped significantly in the past year. His BMI was in the 90th percentile, officially classifying him as "overweight". Sure, he had a soft little belly, and veggies weren't his favorite food. But overweight? I hadn't ever thought his weight was a problem. The doctor was stern as she went over the facts, and made it clear that this was not an issue to take lightly.

I spent some time reflecting over the next few days, trying to figure out how we got to this point, and where to go from here. As the youngest of our three children, Grant has spent much of his life on the sidelines, watching his big brother and sister participate in gymnastics, dance class, swim team, and various school events. When he was a baby, we joked that he could only sleep in the car-it seemed we were always driving somewhere at naptime.

Grant's eating habits weren't as good as they should have been either. Eating on-the-go much of the time, I tended to hand him convenience foods like granola bars, fruit snacks, and other pre-packaged and processed foods instead of fresh and natural munchies. His dad and I have a bit of a sweet tooth, which translated into almost nightly treats for all of us. Our family was also in the midst of a move, which meant added stress to our chaotic household, and way too much time spent in front of the TV.

I know that our family is not alone in this battle of the bulge. Nationwide, 17 percent of children ages 2-19 today are obese, and one-third are overweight. That means that one in three children has a weight problem. And it's not just drive-through fast food joints and packaged convenience foods that are to blame. More than half of all children don't get enough exercise. Computer games, TV, and other sedentary activities are taking the place of many active pastimes of previous generations. If a child isn't getting enough exercise at age three or four, chances are he probably won't get enough down the road either. This puts him at risk for being overweight into adulthood, and at risk for many weight-related health problems.

First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a nationwide "Let's Move!" campaign, with the goal of eliminating childhood obesity in a generation. Exercise and regular physical activity are essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. When coupled with well-balanced eating habits, they can prevent a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke-three of the leading causes of death. Children need a minimum of 60 minutes of active and vigorous play every day to grow up to a healthy weight.

As part of the "Let's Move!" initiative, Michelle Obama is encouraging us all to take a more active role in improving the quality of life for our youth. She encourages families to build in a few minutes of physical activity together every day. Schools are urged to look for ways to improve physical education, recess activities, and facilities for student and family recreation. Community leaders can promote physical fitness by increasing safe walking routes for children, building more parks and community centers, and improving local sports and fitness programs.

In the three months since that dismal diagnosis, we have made a conscious effort to make some healthy changes around our house, for all of us. We're spending less time in front of the TV and more time outside-more trips to the park, swimming, family bike rides and hikes, playing ball, and just being outdoors together. Instead of a bag of ready-made snacks, I'm packing apple slices or carrot sticks. It definitely takes more effort than grabbing a pre-packaged snack, but the trade-off is worth it. Sometimes Grant complains. And sometimes I give in, but I'm more committed than ever to help him grow out of his chubbiness and into a healthy, strong, and active boy.

For more information on the national campaign, visit www.letsmove.gov.

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