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Parents can help kids get fit, stay fit

Parents, the physical well-being of a high percentage of America's elementary school children needs improvement urgently. Studies on childhood obesity and its associated illnesses have brought the problem to the national forefront.

Adult diabetic conditions are being discovered in overweight children at an alarming, epidemic rate across the country. Additionally, the American Cancer Society recently informed the public of the relationship between being overweight and the possible development of several cancers.

The number of people classified as obese has nearly doubled in the past two decades, and approximately 35 percent of children, based on the newly devised standards for obesity, are considered moderately to severely overweight, according to Cancer Society research. Simply stated, the population as a whole, with the significant increase of obese children, is headed toward physically complicated and medically unwanted conditions in the not-so-distant future.

This is not an absolute picture of doom. These "high health risk" conditions of children were created and, thus, can be reversed. The first step toward weight reduction and improved fitness is recognition of the problem and the genuine desire to achieve fitness. Parental knowledge, guidance and support are necessary, along with the understanding that the process will be gradual. Every journey, regardless of the distance, begins with just one step. When parents and children work together, it is almost certain things will get better when a step is taken in the right direction!

Remember the following tried and proven weight reduction practices:

Eat smart and eat often: All meals should have items that are high in vitamins, minerals and natural fiber. Reduce or eliminate high fatty foods, such as fried foods and whole dairy products. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables five to seven times a day. Eat smaller meals more often to allow the body to use the energy for immediate demands and not to be stored as fat. Also, if you eat frequently, you will be less hungry and eat less at each meal.

Increase movement and activity: The body burns food and fat to put it in motion. When movement increases, the amount of energy necessary to meet the overload will be elevated. Walking, jogging, bike riding, swimming or playing vigorously are ideal activities to burn more fuel. Do whatever it takes, but do something to increase the body's large motor movements to use more and more fuel.

Drink water, water and more water: Drinking water suppresses the appetite naturally and helps burn stored fat. Studies have shown that a decrease in water intake will cause fat deposits to grow, while an increase in water intake can actually reduce fat deposits. On the average, a person should drink eight 8-ounce glasses every day. The amount should be increased if there is vigorous activity or if the weather is hot. Don't forget, water has zero calories.

Avoid the "empty calories" of snacking: Most of the popular snack foods have minimal nutritional value, but have a high per-serving calorie count. Favorite high-calorie snacks need to be replaced with lower caloric choices such as plain popcorn, dried fruits, unsalted pretzels and fresh fruits. Better yet, drink a glass or two of water to sack the snack attack!

_ Mike McGinnis teaches physical education and serves on the Safety Committee at Azalea Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

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