By Mackie Shilstone

According to a recent article I read in the New England Journal of Medicine, as much as 15 percent of today's young people in America may be overweight. This is up dramatically from five percent in the early 1970s. As the rate of obesity rises among these young people, so too, do the risks of them developing type-2 diabetes and other conditions that can result in circulatory and coronary problems for them in adulthood. The article went on to cite what studies concluded to among the factors responsible for this alarming trend.

Among them are:

  • increased numbers of meals away from home
  • larger portions and increased consumption of calorically dense fast foods
  • increased availability of labor-saving devices
  • television, video/computer games and other passive, sedentary activities
  • decreased physical education time in schools

"The rising prevalence of obesity indicates that, increasingly, young people have an energy intake that exceeds their energy expenditure from metabolism and activity," the article says.

Over the past 10-15 years, levels of physical activity among young people in the United States has dropped considerably. Physical education, once a required course in most high schools throughout the country, has been marginalized. Today it is required in the high schools of only a handful of states. A recent survey reported that the level of physical activity is consistently less for girls than it is for boys.

These findings give credence to what I have been saying for many years: that today's young people -- through physical inactivity and the pursuit of sedentary pastimes -- are jeopardizing their overall health. But I'm also taking the position that it doesn't have to be that way. There are some simple and effective ways parents can help reverse and possibly even halt this decline in their children. Here are just a few suggestions:

MONITOR YOUR CHILD'S FOOD AND BEVERAGE INTAKE: Watch carefully when, where and how much they eat and drink. Keep them away from high-calorie fast foods as much as possible. Strictly limit their consumption of soft drinks with high sugar content. Feed them balanced and nutritious meals and serve them healthy, 100% fruit juices instead of soda. If you are uncertain how to serve a balanced meal, there are many books and other sources you can consult -- especially on the Internet. And don't feed them too close to bedtime.

MONITOR YOUR CHILD'S ACTIVITIES: Strictly regulate the amount of time they spend watching TV or engaging in other passive activities such as playing video or computer games. Encourage them to take part in recreational activities that the whole family can enjoy like walking, jogging, bike riding, tennis or shooting baskets if you have a portable net in your driveway.

ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILDREN TO GO OUT FOR RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES: Find out what sports or other recreational activities (such as dance, yoga or gymnastics) their school or your neighborhood playground offers and enroll your children in them. If you are athletically inclined, yourself, take them to the playground or the nearest vacant lot and "play catch" with them with either a baseball or football (or both). Motivate them to engage in activities that work their limbs and their muscles. There are, of course, other things you can do to help keep your kids from getting lazy and overweight, but these suggestions should do for starters. It is crucial that parents play their part in helping to maintain their children's overall physical health and it's never too soon to start.