Approximately 15 percent of American children ages six to 19
years old are overweight.
Approximately 15 percent of American children ages six to 19 years old are overweight. This translates into about nine million children. In some states, as many as 40 percent of children are overweight. And this number keeps growing.
I spent several years teaching physical education to children ranging in ages from kindergarten to eight grade. I have seen problems in all ages. In our ever-changing world, it is a lot more difficult for youngsters to maintain a healthy fitness level, for a variety of reasons. Let’s examine a few.
Home computers are an issue. Children are coming home after school and instead of partaking in physical activities; they are inside on their “PC”. The computer certainly has its place, and a large one at that, but it should be in addition to exercise.
The economy plays a part. There are more families with both parents working outside the home (often a necessity to make ends meet), or single-parent families. There is a greater inclination towards convenience foods, which are typically higher in fat and calories.
With the rate of childhood obesity growing the way it is many children are suffering from “adult-like” consequences, such as Type II diabetes, high cholesterol and heart problems.
So, what’s the answer?
For starters, educate your children (and yourselves if necessary) on proper nutrition. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, and whole grains. Keep simple sugars (candy, cookies, soda) to a minimum. Make sure your kids are getting enough calcium (low fat milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.) to supplement healthy bone growth. Remember, when it comes to losing weight, the same principle that applies to adults applies to children – burn more calories than you consume.
Second, get your children exercising. Get them involved in activities after school and on the weekends that promote physical activity. It does not have to be a competitive sport. Even better, do it with them. For instance, I recently spoke to a man who told me that his whole family practices Tae Kwon Do together.
One of the benefits of living in California is the ability to partake in outdoor activities all year long. In the South Bay, we have so many parks and trails to hike. Spend a weekend with your children and receive the benefits of exercise as well as enjoying fresh air and learning about nature.
Most importantly, make it fun! Studies have shown that having fun is the main reason that children participate in activities. Competition should not be the main focus, at least at the younger ages. The purpose should be to instill the joy of moving around.
If a child gets the “exercise bug” at a young age, he or she will be more likely to make it a habit throughout life.
Karen Frost is the Wellness Director for Gold’s Gym of Morgan Hill. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Physical Education, and is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a Personal Trainer and a Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant.