Gaining weight and losing motivation: Combating childhood obesity

By Kelly McCarthy

May 8, 2014 Updated May 8, 2014 at 7:21 PM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) According to the American Heart Association, parents' number one health concern regarding their children is not drug abuse or smoking- it's childhood obesity.

Today, one in three kids is overweight or obese - and that number keeps on growing.

Julie Dietrich has been a physical education teacher at Harpursville Elementary School for more than 20 years. In that time, things have changed.

"Kids aren't getting outside and playing like they used to do," Dietrich said.

Some students struggle during 40 minutes of gym class.

"They think, 'What's my body doing? Why am I sweating?' because they're not used to it," explained Dietrich. "I do see that more these days than I used to."

To counter this, Dietrich created exercises and games to get kids moving and learning about good nutrition. One game called 'Fat Gram Fitness' requires students to pick a card that has a food item listed. If the food is healthy, they only have to run to a few spots across the gym, but if that food is unhealthy, they have to run longer.

"They have to run more because they have more calories and more fat in that particular food item," Dietrich said.

The director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab studied hundreds of 18-year-old men who were physically fit. 50 years later, the men who were still fit and active in their 70s, all had one thing in common.

"The one biggest predictor," said Brian Wansink, PhD, "in whether you're going to be active in 75 years, is simply were you in a high school sport."

Those men were also about 20 percent less likely to visit a doctor. Wansink said the key is to get active at a young age and stay active.

"It didn't matter if it was a team sport or an individual sport. It was just the discipline of doing it, of enjoying it," Wansink said, "at one very important, defining time of your life."

Along with lack of exercise, what a child is eating is packing on the pounds.

"We actually don't want to focus on obesity with kids," said Julie Tucker, Registered Dietitian, Broome-Tioga BOCES. "We actually want to focus on healthy eating and physical activity, which is the best way to approach childhood obesity."

Instead of the food pyramid, schools are now following the "MyPlate" requirements. Students get five options a day to fill their plate, but what they end up choosing is up to them.

Some kids dodge the healthy extras and leave with an empty tray.

"You know, it's the kids' choice, it's the kids' choice," Tucker said.

Schools made changes to give kids healthy choices and opportunity, but Tucker said the real change should happen at home.

"A lot of kids have not seen whole grains at home, but at school, they'll see whole grains," Tucker said, "and the more we introduce it to them the more likely they are to eat it."

"They need to have good role models. The parents have to take care of themselves," Dietrich said. "The parents have to have fitness worked into their daily lives."

The American Heart Association stressed that obesity in children could cause health problems that normally wouldn't be seen until adulthood, including high blood pressure, type two diabetes and high cholesterol levels.