With the colder weather comes thoughts of pumpkins, and tricks or treats. Happy memories of my childhood include not only favorite Halloween costumes, like “Casper the Friendly Ghost” or a scary witch, complete with a broom and hat my mother made, but also the sugary treats that went along with this traditional American holiday. In fact, it is so ingrained in American culture that almost every child looks forward to the autumn months mostly because of this treat-filled holiday.
When I was a child, however, childhood obesity wasn’t a national epidemic. Our parents likely knew too much sugar wasn’t a good thing, but on a few holidays a year, they allowed us to indulge and so we did, unwrapping our treats and eating to our hearts content. But we also ran or rode bikes between houses as we begged for candy, rather than hitching rides in our parents’ cars.
Updated on September 21, 2015 and landing in my email box was the national State of Obesity report. And I noticed that, for the first time ever, every state in the union is now at least 20 percent obese. 45 of the 50 states are above 25 percent, and approximately 17 percent of children and teenagers in our nation fall into the obese category.
When I think back to how difficult it was dealing with carrying a few extra pounds as a teenager and the stigma of this – the teasing and the feelings of shame and despair – I can’t imagine how kids today must feel with the even greater burden of obesity.
Many health organizations, including The American Heart Association, are advocating for legislation and government support for healthier school lunches, support of neighborhood grocery stores, limitation of sugar sweetened beverage sales in schools and public places (click here to learn more about sugary beverages and heart health), and getting behind educating communities and schools about increasing opportunities for more physical activity.
But ultimately, parents are the first teachers of children. My husband and I had brunch recently with his nephew and he mentioned that he was raising his young children in order to “break the cycle” of family history of obesity and diabetes. Recognizing his children would have an uphill battle because of their genes, he is opting to give them healthy options from babyhood, so that for them, the healthy choice will always be “the default choice.”
When I heard him say that, I was smiling and thinking to myself, “It’s working” because the goal is to teach the next generation how to live healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease of stroke. And maybe, just maybe, when they head as little ghosts and goblins on Halloween night, they might just reach for the apple first before the chocolate bar.
As we finish out October, don’t forget about National Eating Healthy Day on Wed., Nov. 4. Register for your free toolkit here.
Beth Langefels has been the communications director for the Miami Valley and Northwest Ohio Divisions of the American Heart and American Stroke Associations since 2006. She began her 25 year career in communications, public relations and marketing with a position in community relations at the Dayton Metro Library. She has worked for several prominent nonprofits in the community, including Hospice of Dayton, The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and SAFY.