BY ANISSA COLEMAN
Macon is competing to be number one in the state, but this time, receiving first place wouldn’t be something to brag about. In fact, parents should be alarmed. Along with Columbus, our neighboring city to the west, the Macon area has the highest child obesity rate in the state, according to Macon’s Strong4Life Coordinator Maggie McCune. That fact carries more weight when you consider that Georgia has the second highest childhood obesity rate in the country.
“Nearly forty percent of Georgia’s children are overweight or obese,” according to Strong4Life, a statewide wellness effort developed by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Those Statistics are staggering, and they show that the kids in our state are in a serious health crisis.”
The organization attributes the childhood obesity problem to fast food, computers, TV, video games, junk food and kid-focused advertising for unhealthy behaviors. “Not to mention, there are fewer sidewalks and safe, clean places in our communities for kids to play,” says McCune.
To combat the problem, Strong4Life is teaming up with local farmers’ markets to promote eating fresh fruits and vegetables. The idea, McCune said, is to offer the community more affordable fruits and vegetables to purchase. “Unfortunately, it can cost more money to eat healthier.”
Other plans to help Macon and surrounding counties remedy the obesity problem include a “veggie van,” which will roll into neighborhoods and give individuals the opportunity to purchase healthy food. This is geared towards individuals who have transportation and time constraints.
During the next year, Strong4Life will coordinate educational programs and physical activities with child care providers, local schools and health care providers in the Middle Georgia area.
Parents can help their
Behavioral Health Counselor, Rebecca Horne of Macon’s Community Health Works said, “The best approach to changing a child’s lifestyle is to change the parents’ lifestyle. Children often adopt their family’s approach to eating and exercising, so if parents want their children to lose weight, exercise, and eat a healthy, balanced diet, the parents have to do so as well.”
Horne said that parents need to teach their children to respect their body and take an interest in their own health while providing healthy food choices and physical activities.
Dr. Angela Barroso, a Macon pediatrician, explains to her patients why it’s important to make healthy choices. “I like to give the analogy to children that food is like fuel for their body like gas in a car. Keeping a healthy engine helps the car run better, just like a healthy body performs better in school, at play, and at exercise.”
Barroso stresses the importance that all children should eat healthy and exercise regularly no matter their size. Just because a child doesn’t appear to be overweight doesn’t mean the child should make bad food choices and sit on the couch.
It’s easier to control what younger children eat, as parents can determine what foods their children have access to.
“Offering more water, skim milk, and fruits for snacks as well as an hour a day free play and running may be all that is needed to make small changes that can make more of a difference,” Barroso said.
However, dealing with older children can be more challenging. “I try to encourage an approach that educates the child and caregivers on the daily caloric need, then allow the child to ‘spend’ their daily calories on just about whatever they want, sort of like an allowance. Hopefully, (this allows) them to see how they can much more freely ‘spend’ their calories and likely consume more food when they make healthier choices,” Barroso said.
For the older, tech-savvy child, apps are available for calorie tracking, which appeals to their use of electronics in daily life, she said.
Barroso also advises parents not to make any foods “off limits” unless there are health reasons such as significant allergies, diabetes, or other chronic illnesses. The family can learn how to incorporate some of the comfort foods or treats into everyday living without making a big issue of it.
Help your child become
more physically active
As children age, their physical activity declines dramatically; therefore, it is important that physical activity be a regular part of family life, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Studies have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. If sports and physical activities are a family priority, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.”
The AAP suggests the following ways for parents to help their child become more physically active:
• Talk to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician can help your child understand why physical activity is important and can suggest a sport or activity that is best for your child.
• Find a fun activity. Help your child find a sport that she enjoys. The more she enjoys the activity, the more likely it is that she will continue. Get the entire family involved. It is a great way to spend time together.
• Choose an activity that is developmentally appropriate. For example, a seven or eight-year-old child is not ready for weightlifting or a three-mile run, but soccer, bicycle riding, and swimming are all appropriate activities.
• Plan ahead. Make sure your child has a convenient time and place to exercise.
• Provide a safe environment. Make sure your child’s equipment and chosen site for the sport or activity are safe. Make sure your child’s clothing is comfortable and appropriate.
• Provide active toys. Young children especially need easy access to balls, jump ropes, and other active toys.
• Be a model for your child. Children who see their parents regularly enjoying sports and physical activity are more likely to do so themselves.
• Play with your child. Help her learn a new sport.
• Turn off the TV. Limit television watching and computer use. The AAP recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time, including TV, videos, and computers and video games each day. Use the free time for more physical activities.
• Make time for exercise. Some children are so overscheduled with homework, music lessons, and other planned activities that they do not have time for exercise.
• Do not overdo it. When your child’s ready to start, remember to tell her to listen to her body. Exercise and physical activity should not hurt. If this occurs, your child should slow down or try a less vigorous activity. If your child’s weight drops below an acceptable level, or if exercise starts to interfere with other activities, talk with your pediatrician.
Help your child develop
good eating habits
By teaching your child good eating habits, you help them maintain a healthy weight. You also teach them healthy eating tools that will carry them into adulthood. Many doctors and dieticians suggest reducing fat intake. For example, eat lean meats and low-fat dairy products. The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes eating five fruits and vegetables a day, eliminating sugar-sweetened drinks, eating breakfast every day, preparing and eating meals at home, and limiting fast food and eating out. According to WebMD, other approaches parents can take to develop healthy eating habits in their children include:
• Give your family plenty of healthful choices. Have a variety of healthy foods available for children. This gives them practice to make better choices.
• Encourage your child to eat slowly. Chewing longer can help your child detect fullness and hunger better.
• Try to eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Make the conversations at meal times pleasant as you don’t want to create an association between stress and food.
• Involve your child in food shopping and meal preparation. Teach your child about nutrition and remember that children tend to try more types of food if they had a hand in cooking them.
• Plan for snacks. Continuous snacking can lead to overeating, but planned snacks can be part of a nutritious diet. Planning healthy snacks keeps children from reaching for an unhealthy food choice. Also, planning the snack can prevent children from spoiling a child’s appetite at meal times.
• Don’t allow eating in front of the TV. It’s better to eat in the kitchen or dining room. If a child eats in front of the television, she may forget how much she has eaten and overeat.
• Encourage your child to make water the choice at meal times. Too many sweetened drinks and sodas have been linked to obesity in children.
• Don’t use food to reward or punish your child. It’s important not to assign a value to food other than deeming it a required sustenance. For example, if you make your child eat all her vegetables before getting dessert, then vegetables become the bad guy while the dessert is the prize.
Local resources for kid’s
>Dr. Angela Barroso, a Macon pediatrician, teaches ZumbAtomic, a high-energy dance and exercise class geared to kids aged four to twelve years. She teaches at The Wellness Center on Sundays, 3 p.m. The cost is $2 for members, $3 for non-members. Call 477-2300 for more information. Barroso also teaches ZumbAtomic at Sportz Quest. Sportz Quest also offers other exercise classes for children. Call 718-7306 for more information.
>Real Kids Fitness offers boot-camp style classes for kids. For more information, call Jeff Kahley at 731-6970 or visit
>Yoga Moga offers yoga classes for children. For more information, call 478-746-3338 or go to yogamogamacon.com.
>Yvonne’s Natural Market, off Forsyth Road in North Macon; Mulberry Street Market, in Downtown Macon, Wednesdays, 4-7 p.m.; and International Farmers’ Market, located in Warner Robins at the corner of South Davis Drive and Watson Boulevard on Thursdays 2-6 p.m. offer fresh fruits and vegetables. Credit, debit, and EBT cards are accepted.