Dear Michelle Obama: Help Us Help Our Kids

Last Tuesday, I took my five-year-old for her annual checkup. "She's in the 95th percentile for weight," the pediatrician told me. I gazed at my little girl, with her dimpled hands and potbelly, and had no clue what to think; the doctor didn't seem concerned. This Tuesday, first lady Michelle Obama announced a national push against childhood obesity; she'll be spearheading a task force, and launching a campaign called Let's Move that aims to get kids to be more active and eat healthier.

As a parent, I want to raise a child who won't have trouble buttoning her jeans and who enjoys physical activity. But I could use some education and motivation on how to make that happen. And I don't think I'm alone here.

Clearly, something's got to change; we've become the United States of Stout—where couch potato parents are breeding their own little tater tots. Data shows that nearly one in three kids are overweight or obese, triple the amount from 30 years ago. Doctors say these kids can end up with diabetes, asthma and heart disease. Even if we were to slap a tax on sugary drinks, as some lawmakers have proposed, and more schools ban junk foods in vending machines, kids will still want this stuff (and will find their way to get their hands on it) and they'll still be sitting around on their butts if parents don't encourage them to do otherwise. PAGEBREAK My kids eat pretty healthfully. I sneak omega-3's into their foods and feed them whole wheat bread and organic fruits and veggies, though they've also developed a fondness for fast food and ice-cream. Raising active kids is the thing I personally worry about most. I grew up in a home where reading books was more prized than exercise and as an adult, I'd rather go to the dentist than to the gym. I encourage my kids to ride their bikes, and when it's cold out we play Wii sports inside, but they also spend a lot of time vegging in front of the TV. Curse you, SpongeBob.

The White House says plenty of efforts are underway to educate parents nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration is working for front-of-package labeling on foods to help parents make healthier choices, and The American Academy of Pediatrics is going to be educating doctors and nurses about providing parents with "prescriptions" for increasing healthy eating and active play. This is all great to hear, but I hope the guidance really does stick.

The doctor who saw my child last week didn't ask what I'd been feeding her or how active she is. He should have—not because I'm giving her bowls of lard for dinner, obviously, but because this is the sort of information that any parent could use. Seems like it would also make sense for the discussion to happen at schools; why shouldn't phys ed instructors have the occasional parent-teacher conference, too? We have vaccine protocols in place for keeping kids free of disease, school systems for teaching them to read and write. But as a parent, I feel like the burden of raising a healthy, fit child lies on my shoulders alone, and I could really use some support here.

What sort of things do you do to help your child eat well and stay active? What issues do you struggle with?

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