Readings for tomorrow

Remember, I want you to decide which one of these op-eds is more effective, and write a note explaining why.

Article I: Parents sway youth obesity

Children didn’t do this to themselves.

For years, the nation steadily has become aware of the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, said Karen Ramsey, health education supervisor at the Nash County Health Department. Early years marked by too much junk and fast food and not enough exercise has left the United States with about one-third of its children overweight or obese.

“Parents don’t always realize their child is at risk for being obese. … Bringing parents to the recognition that they need to be concerned or they need to be proactive is kind of hard to tell them,” Ramsey said.

Childhood obesity rates in America have tripled in the last three decades, according to the website for Let’s Move!, an anti-obesity initiative launched by first lady Michelle Obama. If the problem isn’t dealt with more effectively, one-third of all children born in 2000 or later are expected to suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma, the site said.

Many reasons are sited for childhood obesity, said William Cherry, a physical education teacher at Englewood Elementary School. Too many children are staying inside playing basketball on a video game system rather than doing the real thing. Money and schedules are tighter, leading to too much unhealthy food and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables.

Worst of all is that children often learn these habits from their parents, Cherry said.

“The parents have to lead by example because if they don’t demonstrate behavior, the kids won’t have an example to go by,” Cherry said.

Stop looking back at the way it was when you were young and find an activity your child loves that will get him or her active, said Henry Bunn, a physical education teacher at Spring Hope Elementary School.

Bunn faced the issue of inactivity with his daughter, Taylor Bunn, 10, who didn’t like most sports. He kept encouraging her to try new ones, and eventually, she found she loved soccer. Now, when it is time to sign up, she is the one who reminds him to submit the paperwork.

“It is going to be different with each kid. If you can find something they really love to do, they will do it,” Bunn said.

Parents know this, and they know that a dinner featuring broccoli or salad is better than fried chicken nuggets and macaroni, said Melissa Lowry, healthy kids coordinator for the Down East Partnership for Children. But with many parents worried about budgets and knowing their children will eat the nuggets and macaroni, it can seem like an easier choice.

“They are not thinking, ‘Let me see how much healthy food I can buy.’ They are saying, ‘Let’s see how much food I can buy with this amount of money,” Lowry said.

Children like what they know, and convincing them to try new things can be hard, Lowry said. The earlier you introduce them to a variety of fruits and vegetables, the more likely they will continue to like those as they grow older.

Also, remember that it sometimes takes kids several times trying a food before they will decide they like it.

“If you want to change, start integrating healthier food options slowly,” Lowry said


Article II: Parents must be in charge on childhood obesity

Just last week, officials cut the ribbon on a gleaming, 71,000-square-foot ShopRite in Hunting Park West, one of those parched “food desert” communities in North Philly where there’s a corner store at every intersection but no supermarket to be found.

To add to the bounty, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) a five-year, $3.7 million grant to study the link between what parents feed their children and why kids get fat.

For the first time, CORE researchers will be able to put everything they’ve studied about children’s eating behavior over the last decade into a nutrition education program that will teach parents how to healthily feed their children.

Forgive the pun, but that’s huge news.

It’s going to take a holistic approach to quell the city’s obesity rate – 40 percent overall. But for poor kids alone, it’s even worse, at almost 52 percent.

And, as in most big cities, obesity dovetails with poverty – Philadelphia boasts the second-hungriest congressional district in the country.

Sadly, many parents just don’t have access to healthy options – yes, like something as basic as a grocery store – or the information to make the right food choices.

That’s what Maleata Ragin discovered when she and her 6-year-old son, Ta’lis, participated in a five-week CORE observational study recently.

The study looked at about 100 kids – some obese, some not – and their weight in relation to their appetite and eating habits.

Mind you, Ta’lis isn’t obese. Far from it. At 46 inches tall and 42 pounds, the gangly kindergartner bounds all over the room in the Lansdowne home he shares with Ragin; his little brother, Joshua, 4; and his maternal grandmother.

But Ragin signed up for the study because she noticed she always served Ta’lis seconds. She wanted to learn how to preempt his portion sizes so he wouldn’t eat too much.

And, truth be told, she didn’t want her own bad eating habits to rub off on her kids.

“If I wanted another cheeseburger, my dad would get it for me. When I was about 10 or 11, I started gaining weight and started getting teased,” recalls Ragin, 24, who has already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

“Kids are mean. I don’t want them teased like I was because I was chubby.”

A single mom who works and goes to school, Ragin admits “cooking dinner would be so much easier if I could go through McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. But that stuff is not healthy. So if I want a snack, instead of hitting the corner store for chips, I’ll get some dried fruit at the market.”

Ragin is grateful that both Ta’lis’ and Joshua’s tastes run toward healthy foods. She encourages the behavior by budgeting more for food, so she can buy healthy options like chicken breasts to go with the broccoli, corn, and salad her sons like to eat.

“Have you ever seen those Maury shows with the babies who are 2 years old and weigh 90 pounds?” she asks. “Do you really think that’s OK? Parents don’t take time to learn.”

Participating in the study taught Ragin some feeding strategies, too. She learned rather than passing her bad childhood habits on to Ta’lis by asking if he wanted seconds, to “just wait and see if he asks for it. Since I started doing that, he doesn’t ask unless he really, really wants it.

“And I’m getting a lot better at saying no,” she says – for herself and her sons.

It’s a parent’s responsibility, after all. First lady Michelle Obama, who has visited Philadelphia twice over the last year to raise awareness about her “Let’s Move” healthy lifestyle initiative, has said as much.

“No matter how much [our kids] beg for pizza, fries, and candy, ultimately, they are not, and should not, be the ones calling the shots at dinner time,” Obama declared during her program’s launch last year. “We’re in charge. We make these decisions.”

Mothers like Ragin have figured that out, and the whole family is healthier for it.