Food is a big part of the celebration. From recipe swaps to barbeque bragging rights, many of the most cherished memories involve eating. But while grandma's famous fried chicken and auntie's sweet potato pie may be mouth-wateringly delicious, they are also high in fat and calories. As a result, instead of creating healthy traditions, we may be inadvertently passing down to our children a legacy of obesity.
Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The problem also has caught the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama who has made combating childhood obesity a national priority. Her "Let's Move" campaign aims to turn the tide of childhood obesity within a single generation.
The problem of obesity is among the most prevalent in the African American community. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, one in three American children ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese, and African American children have some of the highest rates. Near- and long-term impacts of childhood obesity are indeed serious.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
* obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure;
* children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem;
* obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults and at greater risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis.
However, the good news is that obesity is preventable and reversible, and a good place to start is at home, including extended-family gatherings like reunions. Family gatherings can become opportunities to introduce healthy habits by experimenting with different vegetables and meatless dishes, and getting people to exercise through sports and other physical activities.
This reunion season, UnitedHealthcare is continuing its efforts to help fight childhood obesity with "The Generations of Wellness Virtual Family Reunion," a new, interactive online tool designed to put a healthy spin on this year's big family gatherings.
The Virtual Family Reunion site, www.uhcfamilyreunion.com, offers free health and wellness information and guidelines on how to incorporate healthy choices into the event. For example, a "Food" section provides nutritional information and alternative healthy food choices that are lower in saturated fat and calories.
A "BMI Calculator" enables visitors to type in their weight and height to find out if they have a healthy body mass index, and a "Clinical Checklist" reviews common health checkups such as mammograms and prostate screenings.
The Virtual Family Reunion website also teaches children active ways to entertain themselves instead of logging on to the computer and tuning out. Users can try the "Dance Area" to learn how many calories are burned through praise, hip hop and/or old-school dancing.
We must all remember that being overweight or obese is more than just an appearance issue; it's a serious health issue. By adopting proper nutrition and becoming active, we can start positive traditions early for our children and create some healthy new ones to win the fight against obesity.