Building Healthy Futures

As I’ve traveled along life’s highway I have heard many catch phrases and inspirational lines. One phrase I’ve heard is, “A healthy family is a happy family.” “Like father, like son” (or “Like mother, like daughter”) is another phrase I’ve heard often. Some others including, “A family that plays together, stays together,” and “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” pop up every once in a while.

All of these phrases stress that the learning that goes on in the home is carried throughout a lifetime. They also emphasize that a parent’s influence can shape a child’s future. Although it may seem that a child’s friends have more influence at any one time, parents have the longest lasting impression. Parents are there when a child is first learning to walk and talk, always there when friends leave, and there when new friends come in the picture. The one constant is family.

Using my own childhood as a basis, I look back at the families who did activities together and see families that are still close. I also look at the families that found ways to exercise together, and parents who set good examples when it came to exercise, and those children, now in their adulthood, still find ways to be active. It was a pattern of habits developed at a young age and carried into adult life.

I won’t spend a lot of time or space quoting a lot of bleak statistics that we have all seen time and again. I will highlight a few of the more telling ones though.

According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Health and Physical Activity more than sixty percent of American adults are not regularly active and 25 percent of all adults are not active at all. The Physical Education for Progress Act states in its findings that “The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the thirty years preceding 1999.” It also states “Obesity related diseases cost the United States economy more than $100,000,000,000 every year.” The American Obesity Association reported on their website that 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12 to 19 years of age) and 15.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11 years of age) are obese. This represents an increase of over 4 percent from 1994.

We can not rely on school physical education programs to impact this in a major way. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “School Health Policies and Programs Study 2000”, only half of schools require physical education in grades one through 5; even fewer (only 25 percent) require it in grade eight and only five percent require it in grade 12. Further, only eight percent of elementary schools and six percent of middle/junior and senior high schools require daily physical education, or its equivalent, for the entire school year for students in all grades in the school. Even though standards and recommendations by agencies such as the CDC, Surgeon General’s Office, American Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ask for daily, quality physical education, the fact remains that most schools do not meet these requirements.

We must take the time to get outside and move with our children. Find family-friendly healthy activities such as hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and even a day at the playground. These are activities that the whole family can enjoy and benefit from. The benefit from these activities is two-fold; improved health and increased family time.

Simple habit and routine changes can go a long way toward improving overall health of all family members. Parking further away from the store, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, using hand tools instead of power tools in the garden and around the house, and hiding the remote so you have to get up to change the channel can make huge strides toward improved family health.

As scary as these figures are we can make a difference. If we start now and make a concerted effort to bring ourselves and our children around to a healthier today we can be assured of a healthier tomorrow.

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