As a mother of three and grandmother of seven, I worry about the health of my extended family, particularly when I read that
four out of five 10-year-olds worry about getting fat
an increasing number of children require cholesterol-lowering drugs, type 2 diabetes is considered epidemic and gastric bypass surgeries are performed on adolescents
Despite the national attention and urgent concern of health professionals, parents and grandparents like me, families continue to struggle with the problems associated with surplus weight.
According to Dr. James Hubbard, “American families must focus on developing healthful habits that are sustainable for the long term. Limiting sedentary activities, such as watching television and gaming on the computer, is important. But far more critical will be the family’s commitment to eat healthfully and exercise regularly—with weight loss as a natural by-product.”
Looking ahead, what trends are likely to improve family health? Here are some predictions:
Old Idea: Surplus weight among family members was a private matter or one of no great concern. Parents believed that children who were overweight would trim down during an adolescent growth spurt.
New Approach: Family members and pediatricians acknowledge the importance of recognizing weight problems at an early age. Research has established that being overweight affects the health and well-being of children during their early years and sets the stage for chronic medical conditions in adulthood. Early intervention is critical, and families will take a team approach by adopting healthier lifestyles that benefit all members.
Idea: Living healthfully involved constant deprivation and required
heroic amounts of will power.
New Approach: Strategies for making healthier choices involving eating habits and exercise can be learned, according to Dr. Martin Binks, director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center and coauthor of The Duke Diet. Parents and children will become students to learn new, more healthful ways of cooking and eating. Success will be determined not by will power but by a willingness to learn.
Old Idea: Dieting was required to lose weight.
New Approach: Eating for health and vitality is the family goal—weight loss is the natural by-product. Because calories count, the caloric content of fast foods and food products will become increasingly available—sometimes voluntarily provided and other times mandated by law. Conscious eating will replace dieting and recreational eating.
Old Idea: The threat of global warming was debated and considered, at worst, a problem of the distant future that would be solved through technological advances and without our personal involvement.
New Approach: Families leave a fitness footprint. By eating food that is locally grown, seasonal and organic, we can reduce the pollution resulting from transporting food and using pesticides. Switching from disposable plastic water bottles to glass or metal water containers will reduce waste and exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.
Old Idea: Exercise was boring and sustaining a regular routine of exercise was impossible with demanding work and school schedules.
New Approach: Exercise is entertainment. The introduction of exergaming (consider Wii and Dance Dance Revolution) will bring fun and appealing exercise activities back into the home. A return to the popular exercises of childhood (using a Hula-Hoop, jumping on a trampoline, dancing and playing outdoor games) will occur.
Old Idea: Medical intervention in the form of drugs or gastric bypass surgery were viable solutions to health problems associated with poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle.
New Approach: Exercise is medicine. Exercise will replace drugs and surgery as the first line of defense against lifestyle-induced health problems. The wellness industry, which grew from $100 million a decade ago to $2 billion in 2008, will continue to grow exponentially as families take greater personal responsibility for their health and fitness. In a worrisome economy, families will be increasingly motivated to save money by adopting healthier habits to avoid preventable medical expenses.
Today’s notion that fitness can be achieved at every age, size and time of life is exciting. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and go through many stages. Determining the appropriate weight and level of fitness for each family member will be the goal.
Our daily decisions in 2009 regarding nutrition and exercise will determine the next set of statistics for 2010.
Will we continue to get fatter until, as currently projected, 75 percent of us are overweight in 2015?
I think not. Despite occasional missteps and temporary setbacks, human beings tend to move toward richer, more fulfilling and healthier lives. If history is our guide, we will make progress in achieving greater health and fitness for families—yours and mine.
"Seek freedom and become captive of your desires, seek discipline and find your liberty." Frank Herber(1920-1986)