Monday, September 8, 2014

Why kids are fatter

When I was in my youth, I'm pretty positive we ate all the junk and drank all the coke that most kids eat and drink today.

During summer, I can remember breakfast being cinnamon rolls, then lunch being some gas station sandwich, a snickers, a bag of chips, and a Dr. Pepper. When it got late, I'd go home and eat dinner. Possibly staying up late eating more potato chips and junk as well.

Now don't get me wrong, my mom cooked plenty of healthy meals too. In fact, looking back I realize just how healthy my mom did cook most of the time. Baked chicken, lean cuts of red meat, vegetables, and garden raised vegetables were usually the norm. But my diet was full of junk too.

In the school year, we ate the same shitty cafeteria food that I think most kids get today. That god damn square pizza or hamburgers that surely couldn't have been beef (I believe it was soy burgers). Loaded down with mayo and then an assortment of diabeetus and heart clenching side foods.

Yet, I don't remember having many fat friends. Yeah, we had a fatty here or there in class, but it was few and far between.

The common thinking, from what I have seen fairly often in regards to all of this, is that we need to feed our kids healthier meals.  And I agree with that for the most part.  However, there is probably a bigger culprit here.

Its really as simple as this, in my opinion.  Kids just aren't very active these days.  

See, during those summers when I was shoveling down snickers bars and root beer and Dr. Pepper and staying up late at night eating whole bags of Oreo cookies, I had also spent the entire day riding my bike, climbing trees and water towers (yes, water towers).  Often times, I had rode my bike somewhere to do some other activity.  Like play baseball with my friends, or tackle football (in the South we played tackle without pads all summer because two-hand-touch or flag football was for pussies).  

I also had a trampoline and sometimes we'd jump on that god damn thing for hours on end.  When school rolled around, we played football, and baseball, and basketball.  We still had "PE" (physical education class) where we had to run, and do sit ups, and chin ups, and play dodge ball.  We had long recesses where we'd play kick ball, or see who could swing down the monkey bars the most times without falling off.  

Then when we got out of school, we'd still get on our bikes and go climb shit all day again.  Instead of riding the bus, Barry Poole and I used to walk to school.  It was probably only a mile and a half but add it up.  After a whole day of activity at school, that's three miles of walking.  Sometimes after school you might have been challenged to a good ol fist fight.  And that would burn some calories too because you'd wrestle around and perform some WWE style shit for 10 or 15 minutes before someone FINALLY threw a punch that landed and then the recipient of said punch would be like "ok, bro you win."  And you'd shake hands and be buddies after that. 

We needed that junk and those extra calories to grow.  We needed it because our days were very energy demanding.  

We had video games too.  And when a buddy would stay over, we'd stay up most of the night playing and of course, eating more junk.  But we didn't sit around for 6 hours the next day kicking ass at Mario Brothers.  We were out causing trouble somewhere.  

Listen, this isn't just me having revisionist history about my youth.  This study showed that kids nowadays, on average, are fatter and slower now than my generation was in our youth.  

My own thoughts in this article are backed up in this study. 

"Kids aren't getting enough opportunities to build up that activity over the course of the day," Daniels said. "Many schools, for economic reasons, don't have any physical education at all. Some rely on recess" to provide exercise.

That's right, some school don't have PE AT ALL.  Think about that for a minute.  So kids go to school, sit in class all fucking day, and really don't get to move very much at all.  Then when most of these kids leave school, they go home, play some gaming console for hours on end, or get on social networking sites, or play on their smart phones, and literally don't move most of the day.  Unfortunately, a lot of these kids aren't as lucky as I was in that their parents aren't cooking "healthy meals" either.  I know because my kids tell me about what is served in other houses when they go stay the night with friends.  

Most homes now, if both parents are present (which is another topic all together), both work and often order pizza or grab some fast food for dinner.  If they do cook, it's generally a high fat and high carbohydrate laden meal because hey, that shit tastes good and "that's what my kids like to eat."  

We as a society have changed monumentally since my youth.  And from a health standpoint, not in a good way.  Technology is a fine thing but it's most certainly played a part in "baby sitting" our youth and with an ever increasing pressure to up academic standards, things like "PE" have fallen to the wayside.  

These trend for many continues on into college.  

Those who gained at least 5% of their body weight reported less physical activity during their first semester at college than in high school and were more likely to eat breakfast and slept more than those who didn’t gain as much.



Just taking a guess here, what this may mean is, the kids who were required to perform in physical education class in high school, got to college, did no physical activities, and gained more fat.  


So what's the remedy here?  

Obviously there needs to be a bigger emphasis on physical education in schools again.  There has to be a way to take advantage of all this new technology to get kids more interested in being active again.  Or at least being more active in school.  The problem is, as noted, because of budget issues and funding many schools can't even afford a god damn physical education instructor.  Once again, back full circle, because all of the money goes into academics.  

Schools would have to have a paradigm shift in order to change a lot of this.  They would have to put a bigger emphasis on making sure that these programs do not fall to the wayside due to budget or funding constraints.  And I do believe if they wanted to do that, it would be possible.  Fund raising and finding sponsors for such things are viable options.  The problem is, we also have a generation of adults that are fatter than ever, and often don't see a need for pouring money into such programs.  So they don't get involved.  After all, the obese parents are a part of why the child is obese as well.  

Not only that, the parents themselves would need to grasp the importance of having physically active kids, by simply becoming more active as well.  Taking a walk to the park with their kids, or playing kick ball not only provides for fun family time, but makes being active a lot more enjoyable.  And if the kids enjoy doing something, they will likely want to do it more often.  My Captain Obvious quote in full glory with that last sentence.  

Until we decide that physical fitness and simply "moving more" constantly gets applied to that "eating less" mantra, things won't change a whole lot.  It's not that we are just fatter as a nation, but we are instilling habits in our kids to ensure that their kids will be fatter, and the cycle will continue.  I'm all for education, but our health doesn't and SHOULDN'T take a backseat to it at every turn.  

If you're an adult that has slacking in the physical activity department, then go buy a bike with your kid and ride bikes together.  Buy a football and baseballs and play catch together.  Get involved with your school if there is no physical education program.  I'm lucky enough to live in an area where not only do they emphasize it, but so much so that the kids have options for physical education classes.  

If you're not that lucky then become a part of the solution in some way.  I can't tell you how many stories I've heard from people who lost weight as adults, and talked about how miserable it was to be a fat kid.

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  1. This is something I've been thinking about, and have argued about in the past. A friend of mine thinks it's primarily the food. "Processed junk, soda", white flour is poison, etc. But I always contended the same thing you have: me and my friends all ate a ton of junk food growing up. But we were active non-stop.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. I agree the food choices are bad. One thing that might be different between today's kids and earlier kids is limits on the junk. Take soda, for example. We always had Coke in my house. But... I was only allowed one per day. Maybe two on a really hot day or if it was a sleepover or something. Same with ding dongs and whatnot. You got one. Granted, my breakfast was also usually shit (cereal), but my lunch and dinner were usually OK. Oh, and LOTS of milk. Milk with every meal, and whenever thirsty.

    2. Physical activity is the overriding factor. My theory on it is childhood activity is essentially like training. You know those stimulus/recovery/supercompensation curves we use to base our lifting on? Well that's every single day for a growing child. If a kid runs around all day, jumping, sprinting, climbing, falling.. he's put his body through a lot of stress. He eats whatever, he recovers, his body bolsters up areas based on the stresses he puts his body through, which for the active kid is mostly bone growth and muscle growth. And over the long haul I think you're training your body to expect such activity, and to appropriate fuel sources appropriately. i.e., don't store a ton of fat, I'm going to be needing this!

    The problem is once you stop being active as a kid, it's a negative feedback loop. If you spent ages 6 through 8 not doing much of anything, that's 3 whole years of no training. The body hasn't seen the need to build up the system athletically. The systems in the body themselves probably aren't well trained for appropriating and storing fuel for athletic endeavors (kinda talking out my ass here). So it's a massive uphill climb. So what should have been 3 years worth of stimulate/recover/supercompensate cycles, the body has had none. You can eat better all you want, you aren't going to be a particular "fit" kid. Which feeds into my final point.

    3. Physical activity is necessary for proper mental development, especially in boys. It's not just a matter of staving off fat. If you're wondering why this generation's boys are falling behind the girls, it's not some feminist plot or anything. It's because boys started checking out of academics the minute they stopped having gym class, stopped with recess, stopped with all things physical at the young ages.

    Talk with anyone who trains about the positive effects lifting has on their mental state throughout the week, while at work, etc. Well the same holds true for kids. We're blowing it.

  2. Great read Paul. You and I are round the same age and there is a stark difference from then till now

  3. This post hits the nail perfectly on the head.
    It's also why a lot of people gain weight when they get office jobs etc.
    I just recently took a look at my own activity levels, did an overhaul, and dropped 16kg. Little things add up, like getting up out of the chair and going for a walk after work rather than playing a game.

    Anyway, thanks for the read! I have a two year old and am immensely worried about her having the opportunities I had as a kid to play all day.

  4. My daughter is two months old and is beginning her first water safety class next week. My wife was a very good tennis player for her college tennis team and I have always been physically active (high school football, 2:55 marathoner, currently working towards 300/400/500 in the bench/squat/deadlift). Our daughter may not end up being an athlete, but she sure as hell will be expected to get outside and be active as she grows up.

  5. This is just what I've seen so I don't know how universal it is:

    Parents are too tired to push back when their kids refuse to eat vegetables and want to stay up late (kids lack of sleep is something I don't see talked about much)

    Parents are afraid to let their kids go out and do things which may put them in any sort of danger. But mostly because they fear that society will judge them bad parents (this is legit, people get arrested for letting their kids walk to the shops)

    Schools and other care facilities are just scared of getting sued. Plus the curriculum is so full these days that they barely have time for lunch let alone getting outside for PE

  6. The square THAT brings back memories. Haha!

  7. DUDE! Great read as always Paul. I just recently read a study that tied the same causation to adult weight issues. The thing that jumped out at me was the comment that even formerly "physical" jobs like auto manufacturing are now largely aided by modern technology. Where people had to literally install bumpers by picking them up a robot does it now, etc. The portion of food consumed is largely unchanged. While everyone is blaming gluten and carbs it turns out that we just dont get the fuck up and move around like we used too. Go figure.