The Dangers of Childhood Obesity

What You Can Do

At school: Bowing to pressure from parent and civic groups, the nation’s largest beverage companies agreed last May to stop selling regular soft drinks in all public schools by 2010. What does that mean? When parents band together, they have the power to make changes. It can start with the simple step of asking your school’s PTA to lobby for healthier lunches are more physical activity for kids. In fact, the National PTA and Cartoon Network now have a “Rescuing Recess” campaign that has awarded grants to individual PTAs trying to reinstate recess as part of the regular school week. (For more information, visit

At home: Miami mom Ana Cristina Argimon headed off problems with her overweight 7-year-old, Javito Navarrete, after he came home crying about kids at school calling him fat. She now brings candy out of hiding only for special occasions, limits macaroni and cheese to one meal a week and keeps him on the go with swimming and running. “If we have an early start in controlling what our kids eat and doing exercises, it will become second nature to them,” Argimon says.

Kids need to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, says Lucia Kaiser, a nutrition specialist at the University of California-Davis. If your child spits out spinach three times, keep trying. “It usually takes young children eight to 10 times of trying a food before they like it,” she says.

And you: Kids, of course, are not the only ones who benefit from regular workouts and healthy meals. Every adult in the household needs to buy into a healthier lifestyle. “It’s a family thing. Usually what’s missing in your child’s diet is missing in yours, too—the fruits and the vegetables,” says Malena Perdomo, a dietician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

After Lucia Murillo, a mom of three in Idaho, started attending a salsa aerobics class four or five times a week around her hometown of American Falls, she noticed that her kids started asking for healthier food. She now limits her portions when she eats and she no longer buys cookies, ice cream, sodas and chips for the house.

For better or worse, the burden of tackling the obesity crisis among our kids will likely fall into the laps of Latina moms, says Alvarado at the National Latina Health Network. “If a woman knows her child is going to end up with diabetes in the next 15 years,” Alvarado says, “I don’t know a mom who won’t say, ‘What is it I need to do?’”

— Jodi Mailander Farrell