Friends don’t let friends (and kids) eat themselves into poor health

By Jack Mapes
Personal Trainer

We, as a culture, discourage drunk driving because innocent people can lose their lives. And because drunk driving can be so life-altering, friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Why do we take the keys from our drunken friend? It is because we care about them and want them around longer. Yet, there is no such prevention method to protect the life of an overweight kid, a child that is buying candy for breakfast at your neighborhood 7-Eleven at 7am. Why not?
Is the above situation my hypothetical creation? I only wish.
I was recently in line at a 7-Eleven when I happened to glance over my shoulder at a 12-year-old who helped himself to one double pack of Rice Krispies Treats, one pack of Ding Dongs, and a 16-ounce Dr. Pepper. Assuming that this kid ate all of this sugar in one sitting, can anyone reading this guess how many calories are in these three items? Answer at the bottom of article, keep reading.
This boy’s choice caused a personal flashback of a seminar I spoke at, with the subject pertaining to the state of childhood obesity in spring 2010. In closing, I told the adults in the audience: “With this knowledge, it is now your moral obligation to make a difference. It is your obligation to help lead our youth into healthy diet practices and daily exercise.” A year later, I was presented with the opportunity to practice what I preached.
After a brief explanation of what sugar had the potential to do the body, and after having informed the lad on the benefits of fruits and vegetables, I asked him to seriously consider changing his future breakfast choices. The boy nodded his head, probably left for school, and I was satisfied by my effort to reach out. Has he taken action? I don’t know, but in the very least I will be in his memory bank because I cared. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but we need more of this.
According to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, teenage boys who are even slightly overweight face an increased risk of heart disease later in life, even if they slim down as adults. Obese children are dying slowly every day, and it’s very, very sad.
So what are we, as the concerned adult leaders on children’s health, supposed to do about our dilemma? In order to take your sedentary child from their current overweight state and transform them into a fit, lively, and happier self, you must understand the raw essentials of molding human behavior.
B.F. Skinner, founder of the theory of behaviorism, said that behavior is molded or shaped by its consequences. So, how can we motivate our kids to exercise instead of sitting on the couch? The first step in changing your child’s tendencies is for your child to understand what exactly you want from them and why. Despite however well you communicate the operant (desired behavior), the whole project is absolutely aimless without a well defined and mutually agreed upon reward.
A good example would be: For every one vegetable you eat, I will extend your video game time by one minute. I doubt these youngsters can get past 10 pieces of broccoli or cauliflower. The parent has thus increased vegetable consumption and decreased sedentary time in one offering. With a strategy like this, the sedentary time becomes dependent on healthy habits. This is how we have to handle our youth.
So, that double pack of Rice Krispies Treats, one pack of Ding Dongs, and 16-ounce Dr. Pepper? Just shy of 900 calories.
Jack Mapes is co-owner of Signal Hill’s Fitness Mecca, which is currently offering anti-childhood obesity classes.

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