As childhood obesity rates soar across the nation and especially in Georgia, some Gainesville Middle School parents are eager to learn more about how to change the trend.
“Being that it’s a social problem all over the world ... (we’re going) to talk about the subject and how to educate parents and help parents help their child,” school Parent Coordinator Hilda Reyes said.
Hall County Family Connection Collaborative Coordinator Elizabeth Fielden conducted informative sessions about childhood obesity for the parents Tuesday, presenting statistics and facts alongside suggestions on how to combat the problem.
“Some facts for Georgia childhood obesity rates: 21.3 percent of Georgia’s children are obese, which is the second-highest childhood obesity rate in the nation,” Fielden said. “And only 16 percent of schoolchildren were able to pass five basic tests of fitness, and 20 percent were unable to pass any of those five.”
The cause, she said, is the familiar refrain: Children, like adults, are eating more and moving less. In order to combat the increase in children being obese or overweight, Fielden said parents need to be conscious of how much their children eat — particularly how much sugar — and get them to move more.
Childhood obesity is an important issue to address because there are significant health issues associated with being overweight.
“Overweight and obese children are at risk for a lot of different illnesses,” Fielden said. “This includes heart disease, stroke, asthma, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease and certain types of cancer.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked the percentages of obese high school students since 2003; that year, 11 percent of Georgia students were obese. In 2011, that number was 15 percent.
Parents in attendance were encouraged to cook healthy meals and exercise as a family, in an effort to set a good example for their children to follow.
“Parents have the fault because we cook the food we like, not what the child likes,” parent Martha Garcia said through an interpreter. “So the kid is going to go more towards that, and you try to give them the greens, the vegetables and stuff, but they’d rather eat (the bad food).”
For Garcia, pizza is the problem — she loves to eat it, as do her children.
“Even if you can start (eating) two or three meals a week being healthy, then try to increase it,” Fielden suggested. “And on the days that you have the bad food, then go for a walk after dinner.”
A big problem is the amount of added sugars in drinks. It’s easy for parents to understand how carbonated beverages are bad for health, but many believe juice is OK. However, just a little more than a cup of orange juice can contain 8 teaspoons of sugar.
Parents asked what they could do besides offering juice; Reyes and Fielden advised making sure they were buying 100 percent fruit juice without added sugar. Fielden said parents can serve a drink of half juice, half water to cut down on sugar content.
Reyes said many in the Hispanic community prefer to buy natural foods but also use a lot of sugary drinks like pineapple juice.
Garcia has felt firsthand the effects of extra sugar and caffeine. She shared that there was a competition at her workplace, with the prize being an energy drink.
“I was shaking and jittery,” she said. “I didn’t believe it until I started drinking it, and how hyper (I was).”
It’s tough to completely overhaul dietary habits, the parents agreed.
Reyes said she’s been able to give up most sugar in her diet, except for what’s in her daily coffee.
“The fact that I work with other people every day, I don’t need a headache,” she said, laughing. “And when I cut out the coffee, I get a headache and get in a bad mood.”
What’s important is to take small steps and adopt healthy habits one by one, until they become second nature.
“You can be a healthy role model for your children,” Fielden said. “Eat fruits and vegetables at your meals, (and) involve children in preparing the meals. Children are more likely to eat the healthy food if they’re actually involved in shopping for it and preparing it.”