The Fat of the Land

September 21, 2003

Is your Little Leaguer so fat his blood type is Chee-tos? Do the
other kids wait for your Cub Scout to jump in the pool so they
can ride the wave? Is it difficult for your six-year-old to play
Hide and Seek anymore?

I see you, Amber! At both ends of the Buick!

You're not alone. Americans have the fattest kids on earth. Over
the last 20 years the number of overweight children in this
country has doubled. Soon, if that trend continues, one of every
three kids will be obese. I live near an elementary school and
see it every day. Chubby little girls are now singing this
rope-skipping rhyme:

Georgia, Texas

North Carolina!

I think I'm suff-ring

Acute angina!

We used to play Kick the Can every summer night. Now kids play
Sit on Your Can, or a game more like Mother May I Finish Off the
Double-Stuff Oreos? "Generation Y," says U.S. surgeon general
Richard H. Carmona, "is turning into Generation XL."

We only have each other to blame.

It's you, Mr. Dad, pumping your bike madly while you let your
triple-chinned five-year-old lie in the back of his little vinyl
bike caboose. He's back there on his cellphone, gorging on
marshmallow bunnies. Let him pedal himself!

It's you, Mrs. Elementary School P.E. Instructor, letting policy
wonks talk you into replacing sports that actually make a kid
sweat--dodgeball, kickball, tag--with "activities" like
competitive cup-stacking. Hey, nothing burns off fries like
competitive cup-stacking. Can we let them do it in recliners?

It's you, Mr. School Board Member, cutting gym classes to
supposedly focus on "literacy." Or reducing gym to one or two
times a week. Do you realize about half the states require only a
year of high school P.E. or less? Wonderful. Now we've got kids
who not only can spell myocardial infarction but also will have
one by their 30th birthday.

It's you, Mrs. U.S. Senator, spending hundreds of billions of
dollars to check grandmothers for shoe bombs while letting
funding for schools shrink to the size of Uday's heart.
Meanwhile, our kids blow up like Macy's floats. It's all part of
the No Child Left Behind Except the Ones We Couldn't Get with the
Forklift Act.

You want a threat to America? According to the Centers for
Disease Control, one in three kids born in 2000 will contract
type 2 diabetes--and potentially the heart disease, blindness,
asthma, sleep apnea, gall bladder disease and depression that may
come with it--because they are obese. This could be the first
generation in American history to live fewer years than the one
that came before it.

At least there's one person who wants to do something about it,
and you won't believe who it is--LeBron James. The Cleveland
Cavaliers rookie is fast-breaking a campaign, sponsored by Nike,
to get kids off the PlayStation and back on the playground. He's
visiting 47 schools in seven cities and donating sports
equipment, getting courts and school yards resurfaced, and paying
for instructors who think kids ought to play something other than
Capture the Flab. It took a 19-year-old to say, "Uh, I don't mean
to say anything, but your first-grader just got mistaken for a
tollbooth."

If a kid can do something about it, why can't we? Let's all of
us--every parent--make a vow to....

*Stop jumping up and driving the kids three blocks to their
friends' house. Let them take that cobweb-covered contraption in
the garage. It's called a bike.

* Watch what your kids are jamming down their throats. When I was
a kid, a fast-food soda was 12 ounces. Now it's 32. In the last
20 years hamburgers have grown by 23%. And so have our children.
Thanks, McDonald's. You supersized us.

* Stop treating the kid like The Little Prince. "You wouldn't
believe the signed excuses kids bring in to get out of gym," says
Rich Wheeler, who teaches seventh-grade P.E. in La Canada, Calif.
"'My kid has a sore thumb.' ... 'She's got a bruise.' ... 'He was
up late.' Parents are escape artists for their kids!"

* Pull fast-food carts and candy machines and exclusive-deal soda
contracts out of the schools. One third of all public high
schools sell fast food. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer schools teach
home ec anymore, so kids have no idea what a healthy meal is.
We've raised an entire generation that thinks ketchup packets are
a food group.

* Turn off the cathode-ray tubes once in a while. The average kid
spends 5 1/2 hours per day in front of a TV, a video-game monitor
or a computer. Our kids have the strongest thumbs in the world.
It's the rest of their bodies that jiggle like a San Andreas
Jell-O factory.

We've got to do something--and quick. Out my window the kids are
starting another round of Hot Potato.

Only they've got forks.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

We've got kids who not only can spell myocardial infarction but
also will have one by their 30th birthday.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)