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Family Matters Blog: Childhood Obesity Hits Home for Blogger

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2011 – My 7-year-old son came home from school the other day and told me another boy had called him fat -- several times. My heart sank as I struggled for the right words to comfort my son, and promised to call the teacher on his behalf.

While I was upset with the boy who called my son a name, I was even more upset with myself.

My son is overweight, obese by the doctor’s standards, (see the blog I wrote last year) and I don’t think I’ve been doing enough to help.

Months earlier, I had pledged to make over our sometimes-unhealthy family lifestyle after the pediatrician noted an upward trend on my son’s weight chart.

I started with the best of intentions. For months, I worked at increasing the variety of fruits I picked up each week at the store. But recently, I’ve noticed my tendency to sneak a few of my family’s not-so-healthy favorites -- doughnuts, ice cream and candy, to name a few – into the cart. And down deep, I know my son is going to opt for the sweets over the healthy treats when I’m not looking.

I’ve encouraged my son to be more active, but that, too has waned in the winter months. The TV’s siren call is hard for him to resist, and I’ve been growing more lax with my TV cutoff times. He’s not getting enough exercise, and I’m the one who’s ultimately responsible.

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It’s not about his appearance; it’s about his health.

Studies show that about 80 percent of children ages 10 to 15 who were overweight became obese by age 25, Public Health Service Cmdr. (Dr.) Aileen Buckler, TRICARE population health physician, told me in a recent interview. And children who are overweight before age 8 are more likely to have more severe obesity as an adult, which can lead to greater risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis and even infertility.

To make matters worse, America’s childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years. Today, nearly one in three American children and about one in four military children are overweight or obese.

The topic recently has been highlighted in the news, mostly due to First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts with the “Let’s Move” campaign, which encourages people to adopt a healthier lifestyle through healthy eating and exercise. The Defense Department also is working to help families with this pervasive issue, which I wrote about in the American Forces Press Service article, “DOD Takes Steps to Combat Childhood Obesity."

For example, officials are creating standardized menus for child development centers to ensure the centers are meeting children’s nutritional needs, Barbara Thompson, of the Pentagon’s office of military community and family policy, told me. They’re also working with vendors who supply the centers’ food to ensure they’re getting the freshest vegetables, lower-fat cuts of meat and less processed food laden with fats, salt and sugar.

But the Defense Department can’t do this alone, Thompson said. Adults need to be good role models. She summed up a healthy family goal with the aid of a few numbers: five-two-one-zero. People, she explained, should aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, two hours or less of screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugary drinks.

Sounds like good advice. I need to start opting for granola bars over candy bars and frozen yogurt over ice cream. And it’s time to encourage my son once again to pick up an activity that won’t involve a remote control or joystick. That will, at least, be a start.

Are you struggling with a similar issue? If so, don’t hesitate to write in with your lessons learned or greatest challenges.

In the meantime, for more information on a healthy lifestyle, visit a service health and wellness facility, check in with a base fitness center or visit the Let’s Move campaign website or Military OneSource.

To comment on this blog, or read other posts, visit the Family Matters website. E-mail Elaine Wilson at


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