Kids don't run outside and play like they used to, and parents say being a couch potato is a major culprit in the growing problem of childhood obesity in the United States. Lack of exercise edged out easy access to junk food as the main concern of the 21 percent of parents who conceded in an AP-KOL poll that their children are overweight. KOL is the kids' service of Internet service provider America Online.
Parents' big frustration is how to change sedentary habits.
"What do kids like to do other than hang out with their friends?" asks Kim Nethery of Crestwood, Kentucky, who has tried fruitlessly to find a physical activity her 15-year-old daughter will do. Even a walk is difficult, because the family lives on a high-traffic country road risky for pedestrians.
Parents also fret over improving children's eating habits. More than half cited the cost of healthy food and television commercials and food packaging as at least a minor problem, according to the poll conducted by Ipsos for The Associated Press and KOL. Another issue: food served in school cafeterias.
Her son's middle school lets him order lunch a la carte, complained Margaret Gunderson of Loveland, Colorado.
"They're ordering pizza, ice cream. They blow through their lunch money by Tuesday," she said.
The U.S. government counts 9 million children ages 6 to 16 who are overweight, at increased risk for diabetes and other health problems, not to mention being teased by peers or left out of fun activities. Overweight children usually grow into overweight adults.
In the survey, children whose parents earned less than $50,000 (Ђ41,860) a year were a little more likely to be overweight than those from more affluent families.
Children are supposed to get at least an hour of vigorous activity a day. But research shows far too few get anywhere close.
More than half the parents surveyed said their children had expressed a desire to exercise more, and 30 percent said their child wanted to lose weight.
Jeff Chabot, an engineer from Rutland, Vermont, said he encourages his children to participate in outdoor activities like snowmobiling and skiing, the AP says.
Chabot said his older son is a little heavy. "Junk food is a big temptation," he said. "There's a temptation to park himself on the couch and eat after school."
Between heavy traffic that hinders bike-riding and easy access to video games, "children's forms of entertainment are much less active than the entertainment we had growing up," said teacher Dierde Karcher of Montclair, New Jersey.
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