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The Mackie Report 

Cutting the Fat
In last month's column, I lamented the declining emphasis on physical education in American schools and the effect it may be having on today's young people. That effect may be "a serious public health issue," according to a recent article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

With findings based on a series of studies, the article states that as many as 15 percent of today's American youth may be overweight. This is up dramatically from 5 percent in the early 1970s. As the rate of obesity rises among these young people, so too do the risks that they will develop Type 2 diabetes and other conditions that can result in circulatory and coronary problems for them in adulthood.

"The rising prevalence of obesity indicates that, increasingly, young people have an energy intake that exceeds their energy expenditure from metabolism and activity," the article says. It goes on to place blame on a number of factors, including "increased numbers of meals away from home, larger portions and increased consumption of calorically dense fast foods." Also named as culprits are "increased availability of labor-saving devices, television and video games and decreased physical education time in schools."

Since 1991, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found lower than recommended levels of physical activity among young people in the United States. The survey also reports a significant decline in reported physical activity over the course of four years of high school. In addition, it notes that the level of physical activity is consistently less for girls than it is for boys. Patterns of activity vs. inactivity are also noted in various ethnic groups.

These findings tie in exactly to what I was saying in my previous column: today's young people -- through physical inactivity and the pursuit of sedentary pastimes -- are jeopardizing their overall health. It doesn't have to be that way. There are simple and effective ways parents can reverse and possibly even halt this decline in their children. Here are just a few suggestions:

· Monitor your child's food intake. Keep an eye on when, where and how much they eat. Keep them away from high-calorie fast foods as much as possible. Feed them balanced and nutritious meals and don't feed them too close to bedtime.

· Monitor your child's activities. Regulate the amount of time they spend watching TV or engaging in other passive activities such as playing video or computer games. Invest time in recreational activities that the whole family can enjoy, like bike riding.

· Encourage your children to go out for sports. Find out what sports or other physical activities, such as dance, yoga or gymnastics, are available and enroll your child in them. Motivate them to engage in activities that work their limbs and their muscles.

There are, of course, other things you can do to help keep your youngsters from becoming lazy and overweight, but these suggestions should do for starters. It is crucial for parents to play a part in helping to maintain their children's overall health, and it's never too early to start.

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