Believe it or not, there was a time in society when people — especially children and teenagers — went outside to play and interact with their friends.
It was during a time before 24-hour television programming, in-home gaming systems and the Internet. Technology not only has provided more entertainment options for youth, it has created a more sedentary society in the process.
"Schools have all but eliminated the amount of time that children get physical activity at school. Recess times have been trimmed and students no longer have daily P.E. classes," said Dr. Eugene Cindea, a pediatrician with The
Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.
"With the increase in technology use, with TV initially, then other forms of electronic entertainment, the general rule is that children are playing less outside and have less physical activity with the exception of their thumbs and eyes."
This lack of activity has created a generation of youth where obesity is becoming the rule rather than the exception. According to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, youth obesity rates more than tripled in the last 30 years. In 1978, around 5.5 percent of 2- to 19-year-olds were considered obese. By 2008, that percentage had increased to 17 percent.
Cindea, who has been a Gainesville pediatrician since 1990, has noticed the trend.
"I have seen a significant increase in the weight of our children. Obesity has become a very significant problem in pediatrics," he said.
"That's probably due to multiple factors, but two of the biggest factors are inactivity and eating too much fast food."
And "fast food" isn't just what you get by visiting your favorite drive-thru, Cindea says.
"It's any rapidly available, prepackaged, or microwavable food," he said. "It could be things like microwavable burritos or hamburgers."
Carrying extra weight creates health conditions in children that were unheard of a few decades ago.
According to a White House Task Force on Obesity report, "Obesity is the most significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, a disease once called ‘adult onset diabetes' because it occurred almost exclusively in adults until childhood obesity started to rise substantially."
Being overweight also puts children at a higher risk for high blood pressure, joint injuries, asthma and sleep apnea, Cindea says.
Although it didn't take overnight for American society to become more sedentary, and less healthy as a result, organizations and initiatives are being rolled out all over the country encouraging people to turn their bad habits around.
The White House recently launched the "Let's Move" campaign designed to be "America's Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids."
Local school systems have made an effort to make lunches healthier and to do away with fried foods and to add more whole grains. Even the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County are working to make sure that clubgoers are doing more than sitting around playing video games after school.
"Every (age) group that comes to our club gets at least one hour of physical activity each day through (a physical education program)," said Derrick Caldwell, Boys & Girls Clubs teen center unit director.
"They either go outside or to the gym and do some sort of physical activity. Even if they want to play video games, we have Wii and (Xbox) Kinect systems, so they're still being active. We try to sneak in exercise wherever we can."
If children are expected to become healthier, Cindea says it starts at home with parents.
"Children model their parents. In so many households, children are products of individuals who grew up while fast food was emerging. It was touted in advertising blitzes and a lot of that was targeted toward kids," Cindea said.
"Because parents grew up in that age, in some instances, they don't know any different. A lot of parents don't realize the poor choices they're making, or that there are healthier options out there."
Although healthier foods can be more expensive than less nutritionally sound options, Cindea says we can't afford to continue down this path as a society.
"Habits are habits and its difficult to change behavior, but if we don't try we won't be successful. As we grow obese children, they turn into obese adults who are at increased risk for health issues," Cindea said.
"If we don't make an effort toward a more healthy lifestyle, we're raising a generation of children whose potential life expectancy will be less than what their parents' was."