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Pamela Tom

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Let's All Move: A Better Way to Reduce Child Obesity

Posted: 02/12/10 02:26 PM ET

The battle against child obesity will not be won solely by improving school lunch menus or teaching parents how to select healthier foods. We need to simply get off our butts. All of us. Americans, and especially parents, must make a concrete, consistent change from living passive, sluggish lifestyles to incorporating physical activity and sports into their lives.

When I was growing up, I took tennis lessons but never played an actual game. My mom enrolled me in swimming lessons but we never went to a pool just to play. Sports were so unfamiliar to me, at school I was always the last one picked to play on a team. It wasn't because I was uncoordinated or unable to contribute to the game. The lack of experiencing physical activity as an integral part of my identity is what sidelined my confidence and me.

These days, you see families shopping as their weekend pastime. And yes, while at the mall, parents end up feeding their children "fast food" -- usually fried, rarely fresh. Kids crave decadent foods instead of activity because it's not a part of their upbringing.

The war on child obesity must be fought by a complete reinvention of how we live.
I ended up marrying a "jock." My husband was the high school quarterback, won a baseball scholarship, and became captain of his college surf team. When we got together, we planned what to DO during our time off, not where to go. When we had children, our active lifestyle naturally extended to how we raised our kids. We put them on skis when they were not yet two-years old; today they are advanced black-diamond skiers. After school, my husband coached their soccer and baseball teams. My daughter started ballet lessons at age four and continues to dance more than 10 hours every week. My son found his passion in motocross racing and surfing.

Now all of this comes at a cost: literally. You can't buy a pair of skis or a surfboard for less than $300. Dance lessons average $5000/year. Motorcycles along with parts and maintenance cost thousands of dollars. Instead of buying Wii and video games, instead of going out to dinner or on an extravagant vacation, we invested in a toy box of sports equipment. That's how we spent our money. But many don't have any money.

In Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to improve our children's health, ample funds should be directed not merely to after-school programs to encourage activity, but to helping entire families integrate sports into their lives. After only one generation, the payoff will be monumental.

Subsidize programs that allow families, not just children, to have access to activities. Free bike programs, affordable dance lessons, and even low cost excursions to ski resorts! With today's busy schedules, offer activities that are convenient and easy to get to. Offer investors incentives to replace malls with affordable family sports centers. Support school sports programs that are falling victim to budget cuts. It would be fiscally impossible and unreasonable to extend such opportunities for a lifetime but all folks need is an introduction, a jumpstart to the many enjoyable and healthy activities available and do-able -- and then they will be hooked.

Just as parents must teach the value of education, teaching our kids to be active starts at home. Too tired after a long day's work, you say? Being active actually gives you more energy. As aging parents, we won't become Olympic competitors but we can find joy and exhilaration in challenging ourselves. And that sense of fun and accomplishment can only rub off on our children.

I learned to ski when I was 20. I'm still the pokey one on the hill but I step into those boots and snap on those skis because it is an activity we do as a family. I play tennis, yes, actual matches. I know when my children become parents, their kids will be equally active because sports is not a hobby for them, it's a lifestyle ... handed down over and over again. My husband's family was not rich but his dad played sports. One of my husband's fondest childhood memories is when his dad would throw him the football in the yard.

And you know what? Ten years ago, I started dancing again. I had to quit ballet when I was young because my parents couldn't afford the lessons. Now I take ballet and jazz. The "girls" in my jazz class are all at least 20 years younger than me. My knees usually hurt after an hour and a half of turning, jumping, and leaping but I go religiously every week. Why? It's fun, and the bonus is I'm in better shape than ever. My husband still skis like a madman and pays for it with aches and pains but he keeps going. Kids have to see parents walk the walk, not talk the talk.

Yes, we eat fresh vegetables from our backyard garden and limit fatty foods in our diet but when we move our bodies, when we enjoy moving our bodies, that's when obesity becomes obsolete.