Although there are small hints that the American obesity epidemic may be slowing a little, one in every three American kids is overweight or obese. To find out why, National Public Radio, together with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, looked at what goes on in American households between school and bedtime-a period they call “crunch time.”
The object was to find out what was happening in the life of a “target child” in each household by looking at responses from family caregivers received via NPR’s Facebook page.
Although caregivers understand that kids need to eat and exercise in a particular way to maintain a healthy weight, during “crunch time” more than half the children in the poll ate or drank something that could lead to unhealthy weight gain. In addition, more than a quarter of the children did not get enough exercise.
In three-quarters of the households polled, most of the family ate dinner together. In addition, most respondents said the “target” child’s dinner was prepared at home with fresh ingredients. However, about a third of the children eat pre-packaged, frozen, or take-out food, and nearly half in the poll reported it was difficult for families to eat together on a regular basis.
Parental and/or caregiver time is limited and money is also a problem. Many parents have stressful jobs and get home late, lessening the time available for meal preparation. It’s less expensive to purchase a box of macaroni and cheese than fresh fruits and vegetables.
Other barriers that get in the way are a family’s physical surroundings, school lunch policies, and culture. Parents report that school lunches are still high-fat and loaded with processed foods. Some cultures consider a “nice, chunky child” to be healthy.
Exercise can be another problem as the “crunch” time fills up with after-school activities and homework, and there is often no place close by-or even walkable sidewalks-where kids and families can go to exercise.