According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Today, children live a very different lifestyle than their counterparts of 30 years ago. Buses and cars have replaced walking or riding bicycles to school; recess time at school has been shortened to accommodate more time for standardized test preparation; afternoon playtime has been traded for TV, video games and the Internet; and home-cooked meals have been exchanged for quick and easy fast foods. In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents in the United States were overweight or obese, creating immediate and long-term effects on the health and well-being of our children.
Healthy eating habits, physical activity and using the resources available through Morale, Welfare and Recreation, such as installation youth centers, can help reverse childhood obesity and ensure a healthy future for the children in our military communities.
Developing healthy eating habits
Healthy eating can lower the risk of obesity and related diseases. Educating children about portion control and smart food choices and involving them in decisions about healthy alternatives establishes a foundation for making healthy choices throughout their lives.
It is important for parents to regulate food intake for children to prevent them from overeating as they get older. According to Let's Move, a comprehensive initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, children trend toward eating three snacks a day, resulting in an additional 200 calories, and one in five school-age children has up to six snacks a day. Keeping fresh and dried fruit, single-serving packs of applesauce and low-calorie, whole-grain chips and cookies can offer children healthy alternatives, which provide the nutrients they need for their growing bodies without quite so many calories. Other foods to help children maintain a healthy weight include the following:
- Whole-grain cereals
- Low-fat milk
- Almonds and other nuts
- Lean meats
- Fresh vegetables
Physical activity in obesity prevention
Staying physically active is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity along with healthy eating habits can help control weight, build lean muscle, reduce fat, promote strong bone, muscle and joint development, and decrease the risk of obesity. According to Let's Move, 8 to 18-year-old adolescents spend an average of seven and a half hours per week using entertainment media, including TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies, and only one-third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity. Children need an average of 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day to attain a healthy weight. The National Center for Education Statistics reports the average number of minutes per day of scheduled recess in schools ranged from 27.8 minutes for first graders to 23.8 minutes for sixth graders. The gap between the physical activity children get at school and what children actually need can be filled with the resources from Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities to include installation youth centers.
Resources from Morale, Welfare and Recreation
The resources provided by MWR offer children, youth and teens opportunities to get involved in physical activity. Each installation may offer some of its own specific activities, but generally, all installations provide the following types of activities and services through the MWR program:
- Fitness and sports, to include swimming and league competition
- Recreation programs such as sailing, boating, paintball, horseback riding, bicycling, board games, social events, sky diving
- Individual skill programs for arts and crafts, performing arts
- Leisure travel for local tours and attractions, tickets to concerts, movies and plays, museum admission
- High-adventure programs for rock climbing, hang gliding, kayaking
By spending afternoons after school or on weekends swimming, horseback riding, performing in a play, attending a concert or kayaking, children and adolescents can stay active and involved in body and mind.
Resources from installation youth centers
The installation youth center is a great place for children and adolescents to relax, have fun, do homework, meet new people and stay active. Youth centers may offer the following resources:
- Computer labs for interacting with friends and doing homework
- Special field trips for bowling or vising a museum
- Gymnasiums for playing basketball or volleyball with other kids
- Music rooms for dancing with your friends or recording music
- Game rooms for playing foosball or board games
- Snack bar for getting a healthy snack and hanging out with friends
The resources offered by installation youth centers get children and adolescents involved with others and provide the physical activity they need every day to stay healthy and fit.
For more information about how to prevent childhood obesity, visit the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. MilitaryINSTALLATIONS can provide you with information about your local installation MWR facilities and youth centers to help keep your children involved in activities that encourage health and fitness. Department of Defense Commissary Agency has information for preparing healthy foods and snacks for your family. Everyone has a role to play in reducing and, hopefully, eliminating childhood obesity, ensuring a healthy future for our children.