The Real Reason Kids Are Fat

By Lenore Skenazy

May 22, 2014 4 min read

Fat, fat, fat. That's what you keep hearing about our kids today — news that is simple, straightforward and sad. But then comes the jumble of reasons.

Could it be high-fructose corn syrup?

A lot of folks say yes. No, they scream yes. But others put the blame on fats. Or salt. Or carbs. Or, inventively, artificial sugar, the kind with no calories. But some mention regular sugar, too. Or any combination of the above.

Anyway, maybe the problem is really electronics. With games such as "Club Penguin" and "Call of Duty," computers keep kids glued to their screens — and their seats and anything else glueable. And if it's not a computer, it's a tablet or phone. High tech is so mesmerizing; kids just sit there, staring. (And if they play Wii, which no one really seems to do except in sitcoms circa 2007, they're still not exercising much. Wii is to running what playing in the bathtub is to laps.)

Then there's the "corporations know the secret to making us hungry" argument: Snack manufacturers have perfected the mix of sweetness and saltiness, texture and taste, to make us crave the next Cheeto before we're even done crunching the current one.

And if you want more reasons: Kids today have too much homework, leaving no time to play. Kids are overscheduled, leaving no time to run around. Kids, in all their after-school activities, spend half the time on the bench or being lectured about sportsmanship or eating the low-fat snacks some parent has to bring each week, leaving limited time for the actual sport.

And all of these may be true, at least in part. But surely, the simplest reason for childhood obesity — and one that is nearly always overlooked — is this:

We don't trust our kids to go outside without us. We don't think it's safe. And because we're busy adults, that means our kids barely get outside at all.

One recent study found that the percentage of kids ages 9 to 13 playing outside unsupervised in a typical week stands at 6.

That's close to zero!

Another study just released this week, by Active Healthy Kids Canada, gave that country a D and ours an F when it comes to kids walking or biking to school. The reason is partly convenience (parents drop off kids on the way to work) and partly distance (too far to walk). But it's also the fact that adults believe that anytime children are not directly supervised, they are in danger of death.

This belief has become so ingrained that I just heard from a mom who'd been arrested for letting her child, 6, walk with another child, 7, to the park in Washington, D.C. They'd been gone from the house 12 minutes when a stranger saw them and called the cops — presumably because he was afraid for them.

The cops took the kids home by cruiser and charged the parents with a felony (later knocked down to a misdemeanor) for letting them go outside unsupervised. The charge now reads "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."

Yes, walking around with a friend is now delinquency. And letting your kid walk is a crime.

Until we realize that kids don't need constant adult supervision, they will be sitting inside a class, a room or a car, plumping up. Why is that considered "safe" but running around, burning calories and making friends is not?

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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