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Winterkids

11/17/03 12:00AM By Mary McKhann
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(Host) Commentator Mary McKhann says that there's a new program that encourages kids to enjoy the winter months outside.

(McKhann) Unless you've been living under a rock or have just returned from an extended sabbatical in the Solomon Islands, you are aware that this country is experiencing a huge epidemic, or maybe I should say an epidemic of being huge, or hugeness, oh, anyway, you get the drift.

We are a nation of overweight, and while it's bad enough that many adults are overweight, we are now raising a nation of children who suffer from the same problem and are at risk for all the complications - heart disease, diabetes and a host of others.

An alarming recent study says that even babies are developing bad eating habits. The study of more than 3,000 youngsters found that significant numbers of infants and toddlers are wolfing down french fries, pizza, candy and soda.

Children ages 1 to 2 require about 950 calories a day, but the study found that the median intake for that age group is 1,220 calories - an excess of nearly 30 percent. For babies 7 months to 11 months old, the daily caloric surplus was about 20 percent.

Not only do they eat badly, many kids get very little exercise. Schools have cut phys ed programs, and video games and TV often trump outdoor play.

One ray of light in this rather bleak picture comes from a program called Winter Kids. Started in Maine, where winters are at least as long and cold as those in Vermont, WinterKids entices children to get out and enjoy the cold.

The National Ski Areas Association has partnered with the program. The idea is to get kids out of the classroom and into the snow to learn about things like snowflakes, skis and sledding as part of their regular winter curriculum.

The association is publishing WinterKids curriculum guides for resort officials, who are encouraged to introduce the program to schools in their area. Of course, part of the goal is to get kids interested in snow sports, but learning to enjoy the outdoors year-round could result in healthier kids and less problems with obesity.

But children emulate their elders, particularly their parents, so if you, as a parent, are sitting on the sofa munching potato chips, you shouldn't be too surprised if your kids are doing the same thing.

So how about taking the pledge yourself? Resolve that this year, you won't let winter turn you into a pudgy couch potato. An official at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, said "there is no bad weather -- just bad clothes." And with a few exceptions, you can almost always swath yourself in enough layers to make being outside at least tolerable.

And who knows? Besides setting a good example, you just might enjoy it.

This is Mary McKhann from the Mad River Valley.

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