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Fighting Childhood Obesity Starts At Home

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Fighting Childhood Obesity Starts At Home

It is a fact that people are generally getting fatter in many western societies. This is reflected in the popularity of diet books and fitness equipment. But while most of us realize it would be good to lose a bit of weight, we are only vaguely aware of the staggering levels of "obesity" in our societies. We are even less aware of the impact this is having on our children, and the widespread existence of childhood obesity.

**What is Obesity?**

Generally speaking, a person is considered "obese" when the amount of fat stored in his body endangers his health. Here are some recent OECD statistics that show just how widespread the problem of obesity is:

Percentage of Population (over 15 years of age) who are obese

U.S.A. - 30.6%
Mexico - 24.2%
U.K. - 22.4%
Australia - 21.7%
New Zealand - 17%
Canada - 14.9%
Germany - 12.9%
France - 9.4%

In other words, almost 1 in 3 Americans and roughly 1 in 5 Australians are so grossly overweight as to have health problems because of it.

**Causes of Obesity**

As individuals we have a tendency to rationalise our inclination to be overweight or obese. We often blame such things as heredity, or glandular imbalance, and while these things often do make a difference, the primary cause for most obesity is quite simple. A person gains weight when he or she consumes more calories than they burn.

In other words, there are two important factors involved -- diet and activity level. And it seems pretty obvious that in countries with a high obesity level, both things are taking a hit. Western diets are oozing with more fat and sugar than ever before, while people are generally becoming more sedentary and getting less physical exercise -- sitting in front of computers all day, and in front of the TV all night.

**Consequences of an Obese Lifestyle**

Obesity has overtaken infectious diseases as the most significant contributor to ill health worldwide.

Illness such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, heart disease, stroke, back and lower extremity weight-bearing degenerative problems, certain types of cancer, and depression, have been attributed to obesity.

In fact, it has been estimated that roughly 500,000 deaths now occur annually due to poor diet and physical inactivity. If this trend towards obesity is not reversed in the next few years, it will likely overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death.

Even more troubling, when adults adopt an obese lifestyle, they are more likely to pass their eating and activity habits along to their children. This has given rise to a dramatic increase in obesity in children.

**Obesity in children**

Obesity in children has become commonplace in many countries. For instance, it is estimated that obesity in children and adults in the US has increased by more than 30% over the past 10 years alone.

The reasons are obvious. Children are subjected to the obese lifestyle from all sides. Many families have substituted high fat, high sugar junk food and soft drinks for regular well-balanced meals. Or they have simply stopped preparing meals in the home -- the proportion of foods that children consumed from restaurants and fast food outlets increased by nearly 300% between 1977 and 1996.

Children are also the targets of a constant barrage of advertising that promotes highly processed junk food. And in many cases the normal physical activity that has been a part of childhood for many generations has been restricted by concerns for safety, or completely replaced by sedentary activities like playing video games or watching TV.

**Consequences of childhood obesity**

Obesity is never a good thing. But obesity in children is especially bad. Once fat cells are created in the body they cannot be gotten rid of by normal dieting or increased physical activity. So an obese child normally carries their obesity through into adulthood.

On the other hand, if a child learns good habits for diet and exercise as children, they will very likely carry these habits and this knowledge into adulthood as well.

**What Can be Done about Childhood Obesity?**

It is up to parents and other adults to teach responsible alternatives to the obese lifestyle. Parents must first become aware of the problems with their own personal and family eating habits and activity levels, and then they must make adjustments that will have a positive lifelong impact on their children.

One effective way is to adopt the "AKA" approach -- AWARENESS of the problem. KNOWLEDGE of what to do about it, and ACTION designed to bring about lifestyle changes. Children have an innate thirst for knowledge, a deep desire to improve their self-image, and will love the attention you give them as you develop a plan for a more healthy lifestyle for your entire family.
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BONUS : Financial Training For Teens Makes Dollars And Sense

According to a new poll, as they get older, a growing number of American teens own credit and debit cards-and the way many manage them has some people concerned.

For example, among teens ages 13-14, only 5 percent reported owning credit cards. Yet at age 17, the percentage of ownership climbs to just under 10 percent and then doubles again to nearly 20 percent for teens 18 or older.

What many find alarming is that 15.7 percent of teens who own credit cards make only the minimum payment due. At that rate, it would take a teen more than nine years to pay off a $1,000 balance on a credit card with an 18 percent annual interest rate.

These are some of the key findings of the 2006 Interprise™ Poll on Teens and Personal Finance conducted by JA Worldwide™ (Junior Achievement) and The Allstate Foundation.

Experts also point to the fact that the fastest-growing group of bankruptcy filers is 25 years of age or younger as a cause for concern and as evidence that there's a need for financial education for teens.

The poll results were announced by U.S. Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary of Financial Education Dan Iannicola Jr. and JA Worldwide President and Chief Executive Officer David S. Chernow.

Said Chernow, "Given the skyrocketing bankruptcy rate and the staggering amount of debt being carried by the average American family, the time is now for students to learn critical money management skills. JA Worldwide is proud to join with The Allstate Foundation to help educate our nation's youth in this essential area."

Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary John Snow and U.S. Treasurer Ana Cabral unveiled the new national financial literacy strategy entitled Taking Ownership of the Future. JA Worldwide is included in the strategy as a key provider of financial education to young people in grades K-12.

For complete results of the 2006 Interprise™ Poll on Teens and Personal Finance, visit www.ja.org. For a copy of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission's new strategy, visit www.mymoney.gov.

JA Worldwide is the world's largest organization dedicated to educating young people about business, economics and entrepreneurship. Today, it reaches approximately 4 million students in the United States, plus more than 3 million students worldwide.
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