Childhood Obesity Prevention. Massachusetts


    In a survey conducted by Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) it was requested information on which types of the following school recreational facilities were available: playground, sports field or gymnasium. As a whole, the answers were: 61% had a sports field, 67% had a playground, including middle and high schools, and 89% had a gym. Schools from higher income communities are better-equipped with exercise facilities.

    Schools serving lower income communities were significantly less likely to have a playground, gym, or sports field, compared to schools serving middle and upper income communities. 73% of self reported upper income schools have playgrounds, while only 55% of lower income schools do. Significantly fewer urban schools have a gymnasium, 75% of them, compared to rural, 88%, and 95% of the suburban schools.

    Indoor gyms and safe playgrounds are especially important in urban schools, since there are fewer opportunities for children in the inner city to access safe play areas and supervised physical activity.

    As you can see, dear readers, physical exercise is fundamental for our children’s development, but unfortunately we are falling into a vicious cycle of inactivity, mal-nutrition, and reliance on vehicles, even to go the next corner business, and with this behavior, we are not helping children to be healthy.

    Now, you probably would be asking yourselves, what are the contributors to the childhood overweight problem? Don’t believe that children’s own eating and physical activity behaviors are the only contributors to overweight and obesity. Our society also has an influence in the following ways:

   a) Fast food and junk food advertisements. More and more unhealthy foods and drinks are advertised and sold, including many public schools. Fast food and junk food advertisers purposely target children whom they know have an increasing purchasing power.

   b) Television watching and commercials. Children ages 2 to 7 years old, watch about 11 hours of television each week; and youngsters between the ages of 8 and 18 years old, watch about 22 hours a week. This is all time spent not being active. In addition, 57% of Saturday morning TV commercials advertise foods and drinks of dubious nutritional value, including pre-sweetened breakfast cereal, candy, fast food, soda, cookies and chips.

   c) Computers and video games. Children are playing more video games and sitting at the computer for longer periods of time, rather than engaging in active play.

   d) Fast food restaurants and eating out more often. In the past, families got together to have their meals, but today many people are eating out with their children at fast food restaurants, so they have less control over how much fat, sugar and salt is in their food.

   e) Another contributor to the childhood obesity is in the growing portion sizes. The portions served in restaurants and in food sales are getting bigger, to the extreme that people leave behind half of the plates, or take the leftovers back home. For example, in the 50s and 60s a standard size Coke was 6.5 ounces. Now there is a Super Coke of 20 ounces. We must remember that every 7-ounce soda contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.

   f) Soda vs. Juice or Milk. More children than ever are drinking soda instead of other healthy drinks like milk or 100% fruit juice.
g) Reliance on vehicles. People drive, and many times with their children, to places that they should be walking to exercise. And,

   h) Safe outside play areas and sidewalks. In many areas, there aren’t sidewalks to stroll on, or enough play areas where children can play outside safely, what is demonstrating that we have plenty of room for improvement in our Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    As you can see, we are living in a society where physical health is not a priority, which is influencing in an unhealthy way how we act, and as a consequence of it, our children are imitating us, copying what adults are doing. But in reality, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you are concerned about your children’s health, then we have to work in the solutions.

    We will continue with this series, in our next issue of Rumbo. Don’t miss it!

   Guilmo Barrio

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