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USA WEEKEND Special Report: Family Weight

The other day, as I sorted through a stack of old family photographs, I came across my class picture from kindergarten. The year was 1968, when Dippity-do and bangs were all the rage, at least in Mrs. Ballard's class at the School for Little Children. But something besides hairstyles struck me as I looked at that photo: Not a single child was overweight. If you were to look at a similar group today, chances are, there would be a few unpleasantly plump kids in the bunch.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of obese and overweight Americans is dangerously on the rise. Today, approximately 16 percent of children ages 6 to 19 fall into that category, as do a whopping 65 percent of adults. And even though the numbers vary slightly according to sex and ethnicity, no group is immune.

Being overweight is a (literally) heavy burden to bear that leads to problems both emotional and physical. Personal struggles—such as worrying about getting in and out of a theater seat or finding clothes that fit—can take their toll emotionally. And as we've all heard, being overweight increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and even certain types of cancer. But the facts bear repeating for two reasons: First, the number of overweight people is increasing with each passing generation. Second, simple lifestyle habits can reverse the trend.

Sure, your genes play a role, however the number on the scale isn't determined by DNA alone. To maintain a healthy weight, it is crucial to start healthful habits at home, early on. Childhood is when we develop the routines that follow us into our adult years. So the inactive, chubby kid of today is likely to become the inactive, chubby adult of tomorrow. Plus, the more active our kids are, the more energy we ourselves can expend chasing after them!

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