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Silken Laumann

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Mom, Why Am I Fat?

Posted: 01/18/12 04:55 PM ET

A teen boy sits opposite his mother and asks this question in an advertisement running in Georgia. The next caption says 75 per cent of Georgia parents with overweight kids don't recognize the problem. Stop sugarcoating it, Georgia.

The ad is shocking, as are all the other ads in this campaign, which are aimed at jolting Georgians out of their lethargy around obesity levels that are the second highest in the country. These ads are upsetting to watch, and certainly the fact that it is children who are appearing in the ads make them even more controversial. The ads have created quite a stir of late on the Internet and have been discussed on The Today Show amongst others.

It is even more upsetting for me, though, to see the hundreds and thousands of children whose lives are compromised by obesity. These children might not understand how hypertension, type 2 diabetes, joint disease and overall ill health will negatively affect the quality and length of their lives. What they already know, though, is that the negative social implications of being obese are significant. Children I have interviewed for my book Child's Play talk about having no friends and hating school. I have known many obese children in my work as an advocate for play and physical activity and I can honestly say that all of them have had their self esteem and their sense of possibility eroded by their weight. So, is it cruel to make fun of kids because they are fat? Yes, but it is far more cruel not to help these children and their families identify and address the problem.

There has been a huge amount of research, debate and dialogue around the causes of childhood obesity. As of yet, nobody has a definitive answer about how best to keep it from eroding the lives of millions of children. It is accurate to say that obesity is a complex issue, often involving everything from food choices, accessibility of sports programs, quality of physical education, socioeconomics, role models and genetics.

What we do know is that kids need to move more. We know that just as the rate of obesity has risen, the physical activity levels of children have plummeted. Everything from phys. ed. teachers in the schools, playgrounds in the school yards, and after school sports have been on the chopping block these last two decades, and frankly it has harmed our kids -- a lot.

As an advocate of healthy, active kids, I have put the most emphasis on being active because I think that when a kid moves a lot and has fun playing, they make different choices. They have less time to eat, they have more connection to their bodies and don't feel like filling up on crap. They are also often learning about good nutrition through their coaches, their physical education programs and their sporty peers. This does not mean that good food is always available at home. There are many places in our country where a quart of milk is $10 and a bag of apples cost more than a family dinner at McDonald's. We have to work to change that, as we have to work on changing many systemic problems in this complex issue.

What I know for sure is that kids that move regularly are healthier and happier. I know that kids who are getting an hour of exercise every day are far, far less likely to be overweight, I know that physical activity, outside play and a love of movement are a huge piece of a happy, healthy life for a child and for us adults.


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