‘Unplug’ your kids

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Send your overweight children outside this summer (but not necessarily to the tobacco barn)

Fifty-seven percent of North Carolinians are overweight or obese, so says the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

That’s a lot of people.

Now, it’s true, things could be worse.

Studies show that 64% of West Virginians and 63% of Texans are fighting the battle of the bulge.

But any way you look at it, there’s obviously a problem in these United States.

And nowhere else is this problem more evident than in our schools.

Sixteen percent of our children are too heavy, reports the CDC.

And these kids are suffering from diseases that we typically associate with adults – hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.

And the question we all need to ask ourselves is, why?

What is happening to our children?

Why are they so big?

As I sat at my desk pondering over this while writing this column, one of my co-workers walked by my door and asked me what was I thinking so hard about.

I read out the statistics to her that I have just quoted for you here and waited for her response.

&uot;What’s wrong with our children, you ask?

I’ll tell you what,&uot; she said, with no hesitation.

&uot;Kids today are lazy.&uot;

I asked her to elaborate on that a bit more.

&uot;When you were a child, Angela, what did you do after school got out each summer?&uot;

&uot;I would go outside as soon as breakfast was over,&uot; I responded.

&uot;And then play until I was called in for lunch.

And then I would go outside and play some more until I got called home for supper.

And then when I got older, I had summer jobs.&uot;

Exactly, she said.

&uot;You were active.

You played and you worked.

Most kids today, hardly move.&uot;

I asked her what she did when she was a child during the summer.

&uot;I’ll tell you what we did.

We worked in tobacco – all the kids did from age 8 on up.&uot;

&uot;I’d never done such a thing,&uot; I said, &uot;explain that one to me.&uot;

&uot;Well,&uot; she said, &uot;the girls, they worked in the barn handing and looping tobacco and the boys were out in the fields picking.

I’d stand there taking it off the trucks that came in and gather 3 or 4 leaves together and hand it back to the another girl who would tie it up – looping is what they called it.

They’d have a long string of twine thrown over a nail and pulled that string out, tie up the leaves, and break off the twine for the next bunch.

&uot;We’d start working at sun-up, when the leaves were so heavy with dew.

And all day, it was the same thing, you’d have to keep handing it off and gathering leaves at the same time, timing it just right like an assembly line.

&uot;And you’d get those great big fat green tobacco worms crawling all over the leaves – they had these red horns on them – the fattest things you ever saw.

You could hear kids screaming when they got on their arms.

And there were these tobacco fleas that hopped off those beautiful green leaves and pinched you. But every kid I knew worked tobacco every summer and we loved it.

&uot;And every few hours, they passed out the green glass bottles of Coca Cola and nabs and then you went back to work.

We’d have lunches brought in to us, usually cooked up by the tobacco farmer’s wife.

I’d get home after sundown, just as brown and gummy as I could be from handling all of that tobacco, and I went to bed so I could get up before the sun rose to start all over again.&uot;

I sat listening to this wonderfully vibrant woman, who is just a few years older than me, amazement showing on my face.

&uot;What’s wrong,&uot; she asked with a smile, &uot;sounds hard, doesn’t it?&uot;

I told her I couldn’t even imagine having to do such a thing and here I was thinking I had worked hard as a child helping my grandmother snap green beans and shell butterbeans while we sat on the glider on the back porch.

&uot;Now, do you know what a child would do today if you asked one of them to work like that?&uot; she said.

&uot;They’ll tell you no way.

Because they don’t have to work, most of them.

All they have to do it sit in front of the television, the computer, and the video game.

They don’t move like we did.

And speaking of moving, I’ve got some work to do,&uot; she said and promptly got up and left my office.

I sat in front of my computer and thought, well, I could look up some more statistics and reports from the government to tell you about or I could repeat what I just heard.

And the latter is what I’ve opted for.

And the moral of the story?

Make you children go outside this summer.

Make sure they stay active and find things for them to do – whether it’s sweeping the porch, swinging on a swing, bouncing a ball, or skipping through the daisises.

No, they don’t have to go out and hand-off tobacco in a hot barn all summer to be healthy, but they do have to move more than their fingers and wrists at a computer keyboard or a Sony Playstation console.

And the next time you complain about how your children don’t do anything, remember, it’s in your power to unplug whatever electronic gadget is holding them in its sway and send them through the back door and on their merry way.