Behind the Bench

Don Winsor
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Obesity and fitness

The most important part of any youth sports program is that of training the athletes to fuel themselves – at least it should be! Yet, some active families pay little attention to what they eat and drink.

There is nothing more damning to children than these condescending words from their friends or classmates: Fatso, Chubby, Wide Load, and the list of choice phrases goes on and on. Kids can be cruel and as unfair as this is to overweight kids, it is a trend that won’t go away.

These children are a product of the ‘now’ generation – one that is defined by a lack of physical education, couch potatoes, video playing kids, fast food restaurants on every corner, and more caffeine-laced drinks than should be legal.

And sadly, in most cases, the problem begins at home. That’s right – home. There are too many quick-fix dinners, family nights at Josh’s Burger Shack. As well, too many sugar-induced, calorie filled, nightmare-causing snacks before bedtime. And what’s more troubling is that our kids are learning these habits from us.

The purpose of this column is to tell you that our children are getting fatter. And folks, that’s just not right. In Canada our rate of overweight children has doubled in the last 20 years to 30 per cent of boys aged seven to 13 and 25 per cent of girls. The rates of obesity have increased even more dramatically, from five per cent in 1985 to 15 per cent. We are seeing adult diabetes in young children, and even very young children with high risk factors for heart disease.

The consequences of obesity are varied. Here are some facts I bet you didn’t know: Childhood obesity is a strong predicator of obesity as an adult. This relationship gets stronger with age – 26 to 41 per cent  of overweight pre-schoolers will remain obese into adulthood, and approximately 50-70 per cent of obese 10-18 year olds will remain obese as adults. And, if that doesn’t make you stand up and take notice, try these statistics from a research excerpt on improving children’s academic performance:

* An (American) study of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders found that 53 per cent already had one or more cardiovascular risk factors.

* Another study found that only 14.4 per cent of obese children were free from cardiovascular risk factors compared to 79.1 per cent of normal weight controls.

* Another found that 60 per cent of overweight kids aged five to 10 years already have a risk factor for heart disease such as high blood pressure or elevated insulin levels. Extremely obese children may experience medical problems associated with their weight while they are still children.

Your family’s health and wellness is in your hands

Fact: psychosocial consequences, or, pressuring kids to be thin has not helped decrease the incidence of overweight. Instead it has resulted in rampant body dissatisfaction, poor body image, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.

Fact: feelings of social incompetence, low self-esteem, and symptoms of depression are closely linked to obesity, especially if the child is made to feel responsible for his or her weight. Children who grow up with a poor self-image are less likely to achieve their potential roles in society as healthy, productive individuals.

Fact: Some 46 per cent of parents of an obese child, as classified by height and weight, do not believe their child is overweight. And, according to the Center for Human Nutrition, being obese can shave seven years off a person’s life, and just being overweight  shortens a person’s life span by about three years.

Do I have your attention yet? Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the madness in sight. That is, until now. This is where you come into the picture. Starting today, get your family into an exercise and nutrition groove. Take a walk. Go for a skate. Ride a bicycle. Cross country ski. Go toss or kick a ball around. Make a pit stop in the fruit and vegetable section and limit those trips to Josh’s Burger Shack.

Your family’s health and wellness is in your hands. I know you can do it, you must do it. When one takes a look at everything that’s been written about our country’s health crisis, is there any other alternative? I’m trusting you answered no!

That’s 30 for this week. Remember, “It’s easier to build a child than mend an adult and an ounce of pluck is worth a ton of luck!” Until next week.

Don Winsor is a former recreation administrator now living in Happy Adventure. He can be reached at (709) 677-2422 (voice/fax), by mail at Box 26, Site 6, Happy Adventure, NL, A0G-1Z0, or by e-mail at

Organizations: Center for Human Nutrition

Geographic location: Canada

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