The fat kid

Remember the fat kid in elementary school? The one who may at times have wanted to be invisible, but whose girth made him/her anything but? I use the term in the singular, because in my fifth-grade class – when we 20 or so farm kids were combined with 70+ kids from the bigger town down the road – there was exactly one obese student. That’s no longer the case.

According to a policy statement published online on June 27 in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, that’s no longer the case. Calling obesity “a clear and present danger to the health of children and adolescents,” the statement says its prevalence among American youth has doubled in the past three decades. Contributing to this unhealthy trend, the statement avers, are the media.

Too much TV and high-fat foods are a seductive combo for kids.

“Screen time may displace more active pursuits, advertising of junk food and fast food increases children’s requests for those particular foods and products, snacking increases while watching TV or movies, and late-night screen time may interfere with getting adequate amounts of sleep, which is a known risk factor for obesity,” the abstract states.

That’s why, when my two kids visit the pediatrician, he always asks the questions recommended in the policy statement: How much screen time do you have each day? (Good idea: no more than two hours’ non-educational screen time per day.) And is there a TV set or Internet connection in the child’s bedroom? (Bad idea.)

This isn’t to say our raging obesity is all the media’s fault, of course. But anyone who has spent a Sunday afternoon on the sofa in a potato-chip-and-soda-induced coma, rather than, say, doing something physical outdoors, can understand how we fall prey to that seduction. It’s especially sad that our children are increasingly adopting unhealthy eating and screen-time habits, as being overweight during childhood only gets harder to change as we age.

I’m happy to note that the fat kid in my fifth grade class, who’s always had a personality larger and more lovable than her size, has shucked the extra pounds; she’s a favorite (albeit smaller) presence at class reunions. If we want to help today’s kids avoid obesity, one step seems clear: Pull the plug.

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