It seems that every month is some sort of health awareness month- from Thyroid Awareness Month (January), to Alcohol Awareness Month (April), to National Breastfeeding Month (August), or Safe Toys and Gifts Month (December). It’s impossible to keep track of them all, but here is a calendar of the current such “months” in the U.S.
Well, September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (COAM). If you’re interested, here’s the proclamation from President Obama. As you may also know, this issue is near and dear to Michelle Obama’s heart, and you may have seen her on TV talking about the Let’s Move campaign. This is not a political post, however, but the President and First Lady are mentioned here to show just how much attention this issue is starting to get. Another campaign you probably have seen is the NFL’s Play 60. I believe the NBA has one too. These are designed to shed light on this growing problem (no pun intended)- to educate parents about it, while motivating them to help their kids to be more physically active.
Did you know that obesity is the #1 health problem amongst American kids? Other countries do not seem to have this problem, and it’s typically blamed on the abundance of high-calorie, low-nutrition snacks, as well as Americans as a whole becoming more sedentary. Personally, I find this disturbing, because this problem is almost entirely avoidable. But how? First we need to have knowledge, and then by making even small changes in our lifestyles, we can make a big difference- for ourselves and our children.
I’m posting this for a number of reasons. Obesity tends to be viewed as an entirely physical problem, or simply a lack of self-control. This is oversimplified, however, as there are many factors at play. As a professional, I believe that mental health care needs to be more integrated with physical health care. Physical problems have emotional and behavioral components- and the opposite is often true as well. They go hand-in-hand. For example, if you’re depressed, you’re probably less motivated to exercise or to care about what you eat- and furthermore you might tend to eat more or to eat unhealthy foods to help you feel better. This can lead to being overweight, obese, or to other health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes. For adults, this can be further complicated by other unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drinking excessively, and inconsistent sleep. And likewise, if you develop physical health issues, you’re more likely to have low self-esteem, to feel depressed, or possibly anxious in certain settings. Our society, though, has separated physical and mental health for so long, and problems like obesity have been treated almost entirely as physical issues. But in order for these problems to be treated properly, the emotional and behavioral issues need to be addressed. As a therapist, I strive to help people understand this, and how one type of issue may be causing or contributing to another.
On a more personal level, I’m a father and want my kids to develop healthy lifestyles so they will lead long, healthy, and happy lives. And like anyone else, I could be more consistent in my own efforts to eat more healthfully, to exercise more consistently, and to sleep better. I know it’s difficult with busy schedules and the stresses of parenting, work, and so on. I also know that my own lifestyle choices will directly contribute to those of my children. No one is perfect- and you don’t need to be, but parents should strive to make an honest daily effort to do better.
I urge you to seek out information about the foods you eat, the drinks you drink, and about how you can incorportate more physical activity into your routine. And if you’re a parent, you could think about how this impacts your kids as well. Even small changes can make a difference. Let your kids help you plan or make a meal, talk with your kids about healthy foods and let them have a say in what they will eat. Take a walk with the family after dinner, go for a bike ride on the weekend, or play a game of tag. If your kids play sports, practice with them in the back yard or at a local field. Or if your kids are old enough, go to the gym together. These are just some ideas, but information is readily available online or in books at your local library or bookstore.
If this is something you have been struggling with, you may benefit from speaking with appropriate professionals about the issue. This may include seeing your physician or your child’s pediatrician, a nutritionist, or a psychologist who can help you to explore these issues while providing support needed to help you succeed.