We're fat and we're raising fat kids.
Case in point: The nursing staff at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services recently purchased two scales that can each weigh a person up to 400 pounds. Pause for a moment and picture just how big that is. And then consider that agency officials felt it was necessary to buy two.
Not a bad move, though. According to the city's Department of Public Health, 40.7 percent of local children ages 6 to 17 are either overweight or obese. The problem has become so bad that in some neighborhoods, being overweight is more the norm for youngsters than is being of average size. For example, the Health Department estimates that in North Philadelphia, 70 percent of the children are overweight or obese.
No wonder so many alarm bells went off last year after a research pediatrician proposed in the Journal of the American Medical Association that in severe cases, morbidly obese children should be placed in foster homes if their parents could not address their weight problem. David Ludwig and his coauthor reasoned that removing a child from his home would be better than having a child undergo bariatric surgery. His piece unleashed a firestorm of hand-wringing among parents of overweight kids who worried they might be in jeopardy of losing custody.
"Nobody wants to put a child in foster care for obesity," pointed out Cindy Christian, DHS's medical director. "On occasion, children have life-threatening health complications from their obesity. If their parents neglect these needs, then sometimes the state . . . has to intervene. It's not the answer except when there is severe medical neglect."
In January, DHS organized a town-hall meeting to clarify the agency's policy on the issue and discuss healthy eating. Turnout was only so-so. (Only 11.6 percent of Philadelphia children are eating the recommended amount of produce, according to health department statistics.)
My father was a health and physical education instructor who tried, usually in vain, to get several of his own couch-potato children to make better food choices and to exercise more. He tried everything - from enrolling us in summer sports camps, taking us to family nights at a local gym, and insisting we play sports at school. Growing up, I played basketball and softball and ran track.
Because we had a basket out back and my father was a renowned coach, basketball was my best sport. To this day, when I see a basketball rebounding in my direction, I leap up in the air to grab it.
But even the best intentions can fail. You can do all the right things and still wind up with children who tip the scales in the wrong direction.
For those caught up in the struggle, here are some resources available to put overweight and obese children on a healthier path. Most are free or have minimal cost.
Lace up your sneaks
Student Run Philly Style is a free program directed by adult mentors who train young people ages 12 to 18 to run and participate in area road races such as the Philadelphia Marathon. Go to StudentsRunPhilly.org to see if there's a team at your child's school or in your neighborhood. Then contact Erica Talley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 215-731-2116 to request an enrollment form.
Cost of membership? Free
Did you know that seventh graders can join the YMCA of Philadelphia and Vicinity free? All they need to do is show up at their YMCA branch with a parent or guardian and show their report card or other proof of school status, and they will be given a one-year membership. This initiative began in 2010 as a way to reach out to youngsters at a critical time in their physical development. For more information, go to philaymca.org or stop by a branch.
Eye of the Tiger
First Tee, an initiative of the World Golf Foundation, is designed to introduce 6- to 18-year-olds to golf, but it also stresses academic achievement, sportsmanship, and values. Fees start at $25. Students tee off at Walnut Lane and Franklin D. Roosevelt golf clubs. The program anticipates expanding into neighboring suburbs soon. More information is at FirstTee.org.
Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education teaches tennis skills as well as values. Programs are offered at various locations in and around Philadelphia. Most children participate for little or no cost. For more information, go to ashetennis.org.
Call the cops
The Police Athletic League operates in 26 centers around the city, each supervised by Philadelphia police officers. Youngsters participate in indoor soccer, rope-jumping, junior golf, dance and other activities. For more information, go to Phillypal.com.
Fly like an Eagle
The Philadelphia Eagles Youth Football Camps offer noncontact football instruction for youngsters ages 6 to 14. Sign up by March 23 and get $30 off. Cost: $349 for five days. Go to Eaglescamps.com for locations and start dates.
Money no obstacle?
Located on a campus near the Poconos, Wellspring's Pennsylvania camp offers a summer program for adolescents as well as adults ages 18 to 24. "For those inspired by The Biggest Loser, this is a great local option that also includes the behavioral coaching hand-in-hand with the physical coaching, which you might not have in other programs," a spokeswoman said. For three weeks, the cost is $6,800. For more information, go to http://www.wellspringcamps.com/pennsylvania/.
Contact Daily News staff writer Jenice Armstrong at 215-854-2223 or email@example.com.