Lace Up Your Sneakers and Get on the Path to Healthy Living

By Liz Peters, Editorial Intern

What do you usually do after school? Homework?  An extra-curricular activity? Maybe watch TV, play video games and log onto Facebook? You are not alone; many teens do the same.  But there are several effects of these behaviors, one being that when you’re doing these things, you’re not moving. So what? Well, without physical activity you begin to destroy your body, and if that doesn’t affect you now, it certainly will later.

Obesity puts you at risk of diabetes, heart attacks, depression and more. Although these conditions are more likely to affect obese people in their adulthood, children also face direct consequences of being obese.  For example, regardless of race and gender, obese children are more likely to be involved in bullying, which can result in anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

More than 23 million children and teens are obese or overweight in America today.  A recent study by Eric Finkelstein a health economist at Duke University, predicts that by 2030, more than 42 percent of the adult population will be obese.  Let’s work to lose that statistic!

Less physical activity, combined with increased portion sizes and a consequent increase in caloric intake, has resulted in spiked childhood obesity.  When you’re still growing and developing, it is normal for your body to gain a few pounds. What is not ‘normal’ is when the body takes in too many calories and produces too much fat, without any sort of compensation.  That’s right, you gotta eat less and exercise more to be healthy! Not only can exercise ward off sickness and keep you at a healthy weight, but it pumps good-mood hormones throughout your body, so you feel better about who you are and what you’re doing.

To combat the issue of portion sizes and increase focus on nutrition, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently introduced a new ‘food guidance system’ to encourage healthy eating.  Say goodbye to the food pyramid…here comes the plate. MyPlate is designed by ‘cutting’ a plate into fifths, each a different size for a particular food group: (1) fruits and (2) veggies (which should take up HALF of your plate!), (3) proteins, (4) dairy (got milk?), and (5) grains. The goal of using a circle rather than the pyramid is to simulate meal building; by relating food to what it’s eaten off of, it’s easier to map out a meal.

Women and girls around the country are joining the movement and working to make changes and get moving. Michelle Obama, a major leading lady, has taken a stand against the rise in obesity in America. In creating the “Let’s Move!” campaign, Michelle is working to solve the problem of childhood obesity so that the experience of growing up can be healthier, and youthful dreams can be pursued. Goals of the program include better access to healthier foods in schools, better access to healthy food for families (including families on food stamps), and helping youth become more physically active.

Here are some suggestions on how to advance a healthier lifestyle for yourself and for others:

  1. Snacks are a great place to incorporate healthy foods into your diet. Try bringing baked chips to school instead of fried. Celery sticks too boring? Pair them with low-fat ranch dressing or peanut butter.
  2. Walk where you can. If you’re able, leave for school a bit earlier than usual and make your way by foot. Your body will thank you for it and so will your brain! (There’s new research evidence that walking to school helps stimulate brain function). Be sure to keep your bones strong through routine exercise, milk drinking, and nut eating.
  3. Join the Youth Advisory Board, and inspire healthy living! The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization committed to ending childhood obesity by 2015 through collaboration with food, fitness, and technology industries, is looking for applicants to join their Advisory Board and take action to stop childhood obesity.  Participants within this youth-led group are required to implement healthy changes within their communities and schools through educating their peers and neighbors.  To see if you’re qualified to apply (between the ages of 8 and 17, live in the U.S., etc.), check out the Healthier Generation website.
  4. If you live in the Boston area, you can get involved in the work that Sociedad Latina is doing to improve the quality of life in Roxbury, including addressing obesity concerns through the “We are What We Eat” Campaign. Girls in the campaign are working to bring salad bars and healthy, cultural foods into their school cafeterias.
  5. Get your parents involved; they can help change things with and for you. The USDA has initiated a Fresh Food and Vegetable Program (FFVP) to replace the junk food in schools with healthy snacks, resulting in positive health effects. There are still several schools that are not participating in this program. Have your parents check out your school and if they are not complying, petition for the FFVP at MomsRising.org so more cafeterias can transform what they’re serving, and who they’re serving it to.

So, get up, get out, and get moving girls! Start by checking out the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo! curriculum, where you can learn how to get and stay active and healthy.

For information on issues related to obesity and healthy eating, see our Food Buzz article in the Spring/Summer issue of our print magazine entitled “The Secret Life of Lunch.” And check out our online interview with the activists at Sociedad Latina, with their campaign to bring healthier lunch choices to Boston teens in school.

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