BRANDON — Eldon Brown grew up on a farm in Lithia where the term "farm to table" served as a way of life, rather than a newfangled healthy buzzword.
As one of eight children, he shared chores like milking cows, feeding hogs and harvesting strawberries and bell peppers.
He attended "Strawberry Schools" Pinecrest and Turkey Creek, where children would forgo summer breaks in favor of having the winter months off to focus on picking strawberries. As a result of this practice, common in East Hillsborough from 1928 to 1954, he ate healthy and remained active as a youth.
Fast-forward to the new millennium and you find Brown watching his three grandchildren grow up around a plethora of fast food establishments in a time where video screens of all sizes compete with outside playtime and many families feel too busy for home-cooked, sit-down meals.
Facing these changing times, Brown joined the audience at Brandon Regional Hospital Pediatric Center's seminar on childhood obesity on Wednesday night.
Concerned for the health of his family, Brown wanted to hear what Dr. John Monaco, a pediatric intensivist, had to say about a growing problem that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has more than doubled in children during the past 30 years.
"It's very concerning," said Brown, 80, who now lives in Brandon. "I feel like they are not getting the proper foods and exercise. We had to do it."
Monaco, who co-authored Too Small to Be Big with actor and talk show host Ricki Lake, said he wants to educate, motivate and inspire families to take action against childhood obesity, which he says affects as many as one in three children.
"It's gotten attention, but it's not getting any better," Monaco said. "People are empowered. They are in control to make a change and live a healthier life."
Monaco says parents should focus on five things: eating more family meals; being active for an hour a day; cutting out sugar; embracing fruits and vegetables; and reading food labels to become more educated on what you are eating.
Monaco added that a parent should be more concerned with a child's waistline than the child's overall weight, and moms and dads shouldn't allow kids to constantly weigh themselves.
Catherine Parker, a certified child life specialist, worked with the children who attended on identifying healthy food alternatives. She says parents need to stay regimented when it comes to what their children are consuming.
"There is a lack of discipline," said Parker, 24, who has worked in the pediatric intensive care unit at Brandon Regional Hospital for the past six months. "If a child doesn't want to eat something (healthy), parents say, 'Ookay, go eat potato chips instead.' "
The Childhood Obesity support group, which allows attendees to engage in an interactive group discussion, plans to meet again possibly as soon as March. For additional information, go to brandonregionalhospital.com.
Eric Vician can be reached at [email protected]