We are constantly hearing our parents' nag about how "kids these days don't get enough exercise" or that we "don't appreciate the value of hard work". Of course, we usually turn a deaf ear when our parents start reminiscing about their youth (let's face it, no one really wants to hear about the days before video games, iPods and msn). But is there any merit to what our parents say?

I hate to say it, but they may not be completely off their rockers (although, we never have to admit it again after this!). Cleverly disguised as nagging, our parents are actually telling us about the adolescent obesity problem: Over the past 25 years, overweight/obesity rates for youth aged 12-17 have doubled, from 14% to 29%.

But, how did this even happen?! In order to understand this claim, let's take a look at what our parents actually mean when they drag us down memory lane:

DECIPHERING PARENT-TALK

They say: "I had to carry firewood to school for the wood stove that heated the classroom."

Translation: "The brisk walk to school exercised my cardio respiratory system, and carrying the lumber strengthened my muscles."

FACT: 51% of 5-17 year olds rely on inactive modes of transportation to school and I'm willing to bet that none of those kids were carrying wood for the fire.

They say: "Back in my day, we didn't have computers with msn and music downloads to keep us busy."

Translation: "My childhood leisure time was often spent outdoors doing some sort of physical activity."

FACT: Nowadays, technology has made our lives so easy that we really have to try to get exercise in our lives. In reality, only 30% of girls and 40% boys are active enough. The term "active enough" means burning 8 kilocalories per kilogram of body weight per day.

They say: "We ate what our parents put in front of us and didn't complain."

Translation: "In the olden days, we didn't have fast food and we ate balanced meals, from each of the four food groups, as a family."

FACT: Children who bring lunches to school and eat supper with their family three or more times per week are at a lower risk of obesity. FACT: In today's world where fast food is both a reality and the norm, only 41% of Canadian adolescents eat more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetable per day.

Okay, but why should we even care about adolescent obesity?

With an increase of obesity rates comes an increase in childhood incidence of hyperlipidemia (excess of fats in the blood), hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes. Furthermore, obese children often become obese adults, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, orthopaedic problems, and many other chronic illness.

Hmm...perhaps this is a real concern, and not just something to go in one ear and out the other.

But what can we do? Let's take a look:

HEALTHY EATING; HEALTHY LIVING

How many times have you heard that it's important to eat a balanced diet? Well, it's not surprising that this is a key component to living well and feeling great. Canada's Food Guide clarifies what actually constitutes a balanced diet: we should strive to eat 5-12 grain product servings per day, 5-10 vegetable and fruit servings per day, 3-4 milk and dairy products, 2-3 meat and alternatives, while trying to minimize the "other" food groups. By "other" they mean foods such as pop, chips and candy (contrary to popular belief, these are not the staples to a high school lunch!).

Serving sizes should depend upon how much physical activity you get, eating more if you are more active and vice versa. For more information go to http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php or talk to your doctor or a nutritionist. Also, try to incorporate more physical activity in your day. No, this doesn't mean that you have to walk up-hill both ways in your bare-feet in the snow, although, you might relate better to your parents, I'm sure! It's easier than you think. Here are a few suggestions:

Walk, bike, roller blade to school, the mall, or a friend's house Get off the bus 1 or 2 stops early and walk the rest of the way Turn up the music and dance! Walk your dog Vacuum the house, rake the leaves or shovel the driveway Try something new like yoga or rock climbing Take younger siblings to the park Stretch while you watch your favourite TV show

Habits you make today will stay with you for life — a small difference now can make a large difference later on... And you definitely want to be around to tell your kids stories about when you were young!

REFERENCES

Canadian Community Healthy Survey: Obesity among children and adults. Statistics Canada 2005.

http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/050706/d050706a.htm

Canada's Guide to Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. Public Health Agency of Canada 2004.

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/guide/index_e.html

Canadian Physical Activity Levels for Youth. Public Health Agency of Canada 2002.

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/paguide/child_youth/youth/index.html

Veugelers, P.J. and A.L. Fitzgerald, Prevalence of and risk factors for childhood overweight and obesity. CMAJ, 2005. 173(6): p. 607-13.

Kelly Butt is currently working on her MSc. at Memorial University in the Division of Community Health. Her thesis research looks at Public Perceptions of Water Quality in Newfoundland and Labrador. When she’s not working, Kelly spends her time with her 4-year old Shepherd/Retriever, Zoë. She also enjoys kickboxing and hiking along the East Coast Trails.

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