Forty years ago we ate sugary cereal for breakfast, bologna on white bread for lunch, and “creme-filled” snack cakes after school. For dinner, if Mom was feeling fancy, we had tuna tetrazzini (made with cream of mushroom soup, of course). If she was pooped, we supped on frankfurters or meatloaf with a dollop of overcooked veggies—hey, nothing a little cheese sauce couldn't fix. Then we washed it all down with an orange-flavored drink.
Fortunately, we all grew up—into parents who know a whole lot more about kids' nutrition than our own moms and dads ever did. But if we're so darn smart, why have childhood-obesity rates tripled since the 1970s? Currently, one in every six U.S. children—from toddlers to teenagers—is obese (and 77 percent of them are destined to be fat adults, too). More kids than ever before are diagnosed with weight-related problems that used to pop up only in adults: sleep apnea, joint pain, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Just one in 20 kids was hefty back when we all watched Happy Days; now, if someone were to make a show about our lives, they'd probably call it Heavy Days.
Pediatric-obesity experts say the problem is more complex than calories in vs. calories out. The real reasons for it stem from cultural and behavioral changes that have taken place since the '70s. The good news is, fixing what's wrong is easier than you'd think. Here's a look at what's weighing your kid down, and how to help him lighten up.