By: Shayna T.
There is strong evidence that childhood obesity and overweight is rising rapidly in Canada (Tremblay & Willms, 2003). Obesity among Canadian children aged 7-13 years has tripled from 5 to 15% (Tremblay & Willms, 2000) between 1981 and 1996, and has continued to increase since then. It has been estimated that obesity had reached a cost of $51.6 billion in direct medical costs in the US in 1995 (Wolf & Colditz, 1998) and $1.8 billion in Canada in 1997 (Birmingham, et al., 1999).
In general, Canadians report that they are three times more likely to engage in passive leisure (i.e., playing video games, watching television, etc.) as opposed to active leisure (i.e., basketball, bicycle riding, etc.) Research has identified that obesity is viewed to be the least acceptable by peers. Research has also shown that children rate obese peers as less liked and less preferred as friends or playmates than they do non-obese peers or peers with other handicaps (Bell & Morgan, 2000).
I believe that it is the continuous exclusion of overweight and obese children from activities by their peers that indulges them to participate in passive leisure and sedentary behaviours as much as they do. However, the more time they spend on passive leisure and sedentary behaviours, the more likely they are to worsen their problem of being overweight or obese. But it is this lifestyle that gives them their sense of belonging since they do not feel that they belong anywhere else. Children can also feel excluded by parents who do not support them in their extra-curricular activities. Children are more susceptible to engage in sedentary behaviours and to be obese or overweight if they are living in a single-parent family or low socioeconomic status, or both, as suggested by Tremblay & Willms (2003).
So how do we make overweight and obese children feel like they belong? The answers are complex, but it is my opinion that parents need to teach their children values, empathy, compassion, manners, and other positive behaviours towards others, and they also need to lead healthier lifestyles. I understand that obesity and being overweight can be inherited through genetics, but the vast majority of obese children come from poor parenting by letting kids eat what they want, when they want; using the television as a babysitter; supplying youth with technology and devices (i.e., iPads) which consume them at a young age, and so on and so forth.
However, I cannot blame all parents. I have had the pleasure of working with children who seem to have had very good parenting thus far. In my experiences with obese youth, I have witnessed things from both ends of the spectrum. As you typically hear, obese or overweight children are often excluded from activities at school, cut from sports teams, or are the last ones picked for a team in gym class. However, when I was in grade twelve I was required to teach an elementary Phys. Ed class as a part of my Outdoor Pursuits course. I got to spend one hour with the grade 3/4 class doing an obstacle course.
One boy in particular was quite a bit bigger than the rest of the children. Except, rather than being excluded by his peers, he made the decision himself to sit out. As Tremblay & Willms (2003) stated: “it may be that children who are prone to overweight and obesity may also be prone to living a more sedentary lifestyle; that is obesity and overweight can discourage children from participating”. When we asked him why he was choosing not to participate in the activity his response was “I do not want to slow my team down”. I was amazed that a child this young knew that he was slightly different and blamed himself for being the reason his peers could not enjoy an activity. However, with much encouragement, we convinced him to participate in the activity with the rest of his class and the result was phenomenal.
“On your mark, get set, and GO!” The students began to race their way through the course. Near the end we began to hear screaming and laughter coming from his team. As I turned to see what the commotion was all about, I came to see that his entire team were on their feet jumping up and down and cheering for him as he made his way through the obstacles. The more his team cheered for him, the bigger the smile was on his face. My partner and I ran along side him encouraging him on his final stretch to the finish line, “Come on!” “You can do it!” “You’re almost there!”. As he crossed the finish line his team ran to circle around him and cheer for him as they had won the race. It was amazing to see such a young group of kids know the importance of encouragement and support and to be able to show such empathy and compassion towards this student without being asked.
In conclusion, obesity is one of the most overwhelming reasons as to why children do not participate in active leisure, recreation, or sport. Parents and family members play a huge role in a child’s life and need to lead healthy lifestyles for their children to follow. We should limit our children’s time spent on passive leisure and encourage them to participate in more physically active activities. We should promote healthy eating and limit the number of times per day that our children eat unhealthy “junk” foods. Also, we need to be well involved in our children’s lives. It is understood that parents have busy schedules between work, meetings, and other things that may consume majority of their days, but there is always time for your children.
Our children are our priorities, whether we’re busy or not. I speak from experience of a very busy schedule. On top of going to University full-time and working a part-time job after classes, I also have a 4-month-old. Between all of the above plus homework and studying for midterms/exams, I do not get much free time for myself or quality time to spend with my boyfriend. However, I do not care if I have a final project due for school or if I have to be to work in half an hour, if my daughter is hungry, I take the time to feed her. If she needs her diaper changed, I change it. If she’s crying because she just wants to cuddle and be held, then I drop everything and spend time with her. Our children are our priority and they deserve to know that we care about them.
Bell, S.K. & Morgan, S.B. (2000). Children’s Attitudes and Behavioral Intentions Toward a
Peer Presented as Obese: Does a Medical Explanation for the Obesity Make a
Difference? Journal of Pediatric Psychology 25 (3), 137-145.
Birmingham, C.L., Muller, J.L., Palepu, A., Spinelli, J.J., and Anis, A.H. (1999). The cost
of obesity in Canada. Canadian Medical Association 160 (4), 483-488.
Tremblay, M.S. & Willms, J.D. (2003). Is the Canadian childhood obesity epidemic related
to physical inactivity? International Journal of Obesity 27, 1100-1105.
Wolf, A.M. & Colditz, G.A. (1998). Current estimates of the economic cost of obesity in the
United States. Obesity Research 6 (2), 97-106.