Teacher Talk Back: Let’s face it, our kids are fat

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Parents and teachers must work together to improve physical fitness levels.

Thirty years ago as a rookie teacher, teaching an overweight child was rare and obese children were the exception. Fast forward to 2011. Stand on a playground, school yard, or in your child’s classroom. You will immediately notice that about one quarter of school-aged children show evidence of carrying more weight than is recommended or necessary.

One in four overweight kids is a staggering statistic! In fact, it’s a disgrace.

It’s no better with the preschool crowd. Active Healthy Kids Canada’s 2010 report card says that nationally, 15.2 percent of children ages two to five are considered to be overweight and 6.3 percent are obese. Kids are too fat. How did we get here? Every single one of us – parents, teachers and policy makers – have played a role. If we don’t do something about it, we will collectively help ruin the lives of these children.

Government definitely has a role. For example, in September, 2011, the majority of foods sold in Ontario schools will have to contain much lower sodium, fat and sugar content than currently offered. Junk food sold in schools will only be allowed a few times a year.

Manitoba has taken a ‘tough on fatness’ stand, too. All students must enrol in physical education classes until Grade 12 and the government has made this a graduation requirement.

In the Northwest Territories, increased importance has been dedicated to physical movement as academic, leadership and cultural-knowledge tools. For instance, teaching teams have taken students into Wood Buffalo National Park to experience First Nations culture and traditional activities, such as camping and backpacking.

The curriculum focus in many elementary schools across Canada is to conduct ‘daily physical education’ but this is challenging to monitor and execute. Truthfully, if teachers really want to, they can creatively incorporate physical movement into many lessons in the classroom.

Enough already with the chip-munching, couch-potato mentality. Let’s abandon our defensiveness and petty excuses for kiddie fatness and support the Active Healthy Kids Canada mission: Inspire the nation to engage all children and youth in physical activity.

What teachers can do

  • Make relevant, valuable choices for screen time. Technology has a place in education but not to the exclusion of movement breaks.
  • Model healthy lifestyle choices regarding food and fitness.
  • Make recess active with physical games and a host of large toys at the ready. Don’t cancel recess when it’s drizzling.
  • Introduce group and individual fitness options. Try programs such as WeMuv (wemuv.com), a digital-based program using pedometers with activity options across the curriculum.
  • Plan and incorporate physical fitness into field trips.
  • Reward good behaviour with non-food tokens such as free time, or extra gym time.
  • Make phys-ed fun and lifelong-based. Don’t let the best athletes choose the teams so the less athletic kids get chosen last. Choose activities that require being active for the majority of the gym period.

What parents can do

  • Ditch fundraisers that revolve around selling food in favour of those involving groups of children in movement e.g., dance-a-thons.
  • Reduce screen time: none for children under age two, one hour daily maximum for ages two to five. No televisions in bedrooms.
  • Monitor your own fat, sodium and sugar intake.
  • Be active yourself and provide opportunities for independent outdoor play as well as play with parent(s).
  • Walk more – to school or to visit the library. Biking is good, too.
  • Discuss with your child how and why it’s important to read food label information.
  • Call your MP. Canada has NO physical activity guidelines for children under age six. Demand daycares and schools consistently offer daily physical education opportunities.

Published in June, 2011.

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