Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

Every day the traditional and online news inform us that our children are not getting enough exercise. Currently, over a third of the children in this country are considered overweight, and 17 percent are obese. Children are simply not as active as they should be at home or school.

Back in my school days, an hour’s worth of television after school was it. I was then given the choice of doing chores or heading outside to play. Being no fool, I always chose the latter. However, today is not like the past. My mom was a stay at home mother and could monitor my activity. Also, my neighborhood was filled with these types of mothers. The parents all knew each other and the kids. Strangers entering the neighborhood were noticed. Changing times, changing economics, and changing neighborhoods have rendered the reality of my childhood obsolete. 

Today, people rarely know their neighbors. No fault of their own, but the fact is that people spend only 5-7 years in one location and typically live in over 10 residences during their lifetime. Therefore, strangers on the block are less noticed. The constant stream of scary stories and crime on local TV news alarms many. Thus, parents compensate by keeping their kids close to home and indoors. One result is that kids spend over 44 hours a week in front of a screen. Parents fear crime and see television, online content, and video gaming as safe alternatives to the dangerous world outside of their home.

It was not too many years ago that recess and physical education were included in every student’s school day. Exercise, like reading and math, was considered an essential part of the curriculum. Changing times have impacted the daily structure of our schools. Unfortunately, the drive toward meeting state and national testing expectations have drastically reduced or eliminated recess time and turned many physical education teachers into de-facto math and language arts teachers required to teach tested academic subjects as a part of students’ physical education time. The end result is, like at home, many students are now not getting enough vigorous exercise at school.

These are some of the factors that have led to increased childhood obesity even as parents and schools try to provide healthier meals. The fact is that today children tend to be less active, spend more time viewing screens, and have ended up becoming less healthy as a group than previous generations. The question is: What can we do?

Here are a few suggestions. Parents can proactively seek activities that encourage exercise. There are sports leagues throughout the city that offer everything from soccer to lacrosse to dodge ball. However, not all activities need to be organized. Family jogs, bike rides on the greenline, a hike at Shelby Farms, swimming in area pools, and a daily walk around the block are all good ideas. Playing driveway basketball, volleyball, badminton, or throwing ball in the yard are good ways to engage both adults and children. A family membership to a gym, YMCA, or the Kroc Center can offer opportunities for a variety of classes and exercise options that challenge the whole family to make healthier lifestyle choices.

In addition to exercise, having set, together family dining times where parents ensure that reasonable portions plus fruit and vegetables are a part of each meal is crucial. Substituting fruits, nuts, water, and milk for salty snacks, sweets, and sodas in the house can be a game changer.   

In the end, the above lifestyle choices and activities are a good way to encourage healthy eating and ways to get the family off the couch, away from the screens, and exercising. Whatever you do this spring, try to add a bit of family activity into your daily plans. Planned meals and daily exercise helps to keep not just the kids but the whole family happy and healthy.

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is an educator and freelance writer. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at: djacksonmaxwell@gmail.com. 

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