A Heart-to-Heart Chat About Fat

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's a simple equation, not scientific as much as common sense: Energy in = energy burned.

And what it means, when it comes to the human body, is that the number of calories you take in each day should be balanced by the number of calories you use in walking, climbing stairs, playing outside and doing other activities.

But if what goes in is a lot more than what goes out, you will start to gain weight. And since about 1980 in this country, kids have gained lots of weight. (You can figure the reasons. On the one side, there's too much junk food, high-sugar sodas and super-sized portions. On the other side, there's way too little moving your body. In part, blame cuts in recess and P.E. at school, plus the hours kids spend in front of TVs and computers.)

The issue isn't whether boys and girls look good in shorts and swimsuits. And it's not about being the fastest athlete on the team. It's about whether you are healthy.

Unfortunately, fat is really, really unhealthy. Researchers have discovered that fat cells produce hormones and other chemicals that can hurt your body when you're young. The damage gets worse if the weight stays with you into adulthood.

This is scary, yes. But it will help you to understand why it's so important to eat well and be active. You want to live a long time, right? And, just as important, you don't want be limited by painful and serious health problems, right?

So now you get the picture. Organ by organ, you're putting your health in jeopardy by being overweight -- no matter how young you are.

What can you do? All this week The Washington Post will have articles on the problems kids face with being overweight (including obesity, the most dangerous level of excess pounds). Our coverage will include a nutrition quiz, a comparison of restaurant foods and Internet links for helpful information. KidsPost will have special coverage, too.

Read the stories. Then think about what you eat and do -- and, if needed, how you can start to change both.

Remember: Energy in = energy burned.

-- Susan Levine

© 2008 The Washington Post Company