The average adult American is ballooning in weight. This isn’t breaking news. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky possessed a 31 percent obesity rate in 2010, one of the highest in the nation. Naturally, kids are following suit. The nation needs a diet. However, when families strategize ways in which to fight the obesity epidemic, is more activity a key or a curse?
On a Saturday morning in the Paducah Recreation Center, four children wiggle through a dance routine. Certified Zumbatomics instructor Eve Kotter takes the popular dance exercise, Zumba, and simplifies it for ages 4 through 12. Kotter says the class gets kids burning calories while enjoying pure, simple motion.
“It’s fun. It’s not like, you know, the formatted aerobics classes,” Kotter says, “That’s why if you look at anything Zumba, it says ‘Join the party’ because it’s just fun. You get up and dance, and they build confidence and, you know, yell at the top of their lungs, and it’s just beautiful.”
Programs like Zumbatomics as well as intramural sports coax children away from the glow of their gaming systems. In today’s society, this activity is vital. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kentucky had a 37 percent child obesity rate in 2007. That’s a 17-and-a-half percent increase from 2003. Children need more sunshine, grass, dirt and sweat. They need more activity.
But, while organized sports programs, dance rehearsals and martial arts classes can boost the health of children, their parents can suffer, as a consequence.
Registered dietician Cherrie Ford says,
“…the family’s focus now becomes the kids and they just eat on the run, trying to fit the kids schedule into their hectic lifestyle.”
And grabbing a Big Mac and fries from McDonalds two to three times per week can take a toll. Ford says when people eat in restaurants they consume an average of 30 percent more calories than when they eat at home. The United States Department of Agriculture supports this statement. The department published a study in 2002 saying food prepared away from home contains more calories, total fat and saturated fat while containing less dietary fiber, calcium and iron on a per calorie basis. Ford says,
“Even if you choose something healthy, like Subway—you’re going to make a healthy choice—your sandwich is going to be, maybe 100 more calories than a sandwich from home just because it’s a bigger portion, it’s more bread. You’re just going to eat more calories.”
Standing in the midst of several concession stands in the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, a slim Suzy Colburn agrees. Her 17 year-old daughter, Sydney, has cheered the Marshall County Marshals all the way to the state tournament. After years of gymnastics lessons and cheerleading, Colburn admits healthy eating doesn’t always fit into the family schedule.
“A lot of times, we try to do salads when we go through drive-throughs and things like that, but then when it’s cold, I eat cheeseburgers and French fries because it’s more comfort food,” she says.
From the stands, Michelle Clark watches her son, Chase, play ball against Scott County. In the past, when Chase and his older brother both played Marshall County basketball, the Clark family attended events four to five times per week. Clark says she and her husband tried to eat grilled chicken and salads, but burgers also got thrown into their menus. This didn’t help their health. Clark says,
“I gained a lot of weight. A lot of weight. My husband did, too, though.”
These problems persist throughout the country as more and more people eat out. According to the USDA, Americans spent about 50 percent of their food budget in 2004 on meals prepared outside the home. That’s up roughly 16 percent from survey results in 1974. So what should people do? Children obviously need activity.
Cherrie Ford, a veteran basketball and cross-country mom herself, says the answer lies in planning.
“As much as you can around your busy schedule, eat at home,” she says. “You know, make a pot of soup in the morning and put it in the crock-pot. Put a roast in the crock-pot in the morning. There’s going to be things you can do if you plan ahead.”
The dietician says when eating at home won’t work, take a sandwich and a cup of yogurt to the game. Looking ridiculous is better than looking unhealthy. With some forethought, the entire family can stay fit. It just takes a will and a crock-pot.