It’s not much of a surprise that childhood obesity is a problem in the United States. Take a look below at the data from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics.
In children 2-19 years about 18.5% (13.7 million) of them are obese. Yes, children do have fewer weight-related medical problems; however, overweight children are at a high risk of becoming overweight adults, which will put them at high risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Why are children obese? Well, there’s few reasons such as large portion sizes of food, unhealthy food choices, stress, and even some medical issues, but I believe the lack of inactivity in kids is one of the biggest reasons why so many kids are obese. According to the CDC, 11% of the girls and 24% of the boys between the ages of 11-16 are physically active for 60 minutes or more in a day.
Why the lack of activity? The decline in youth sports is one of them. According to the SFIA, the only sports that showed an increase in participation were gymnastics, lacrosse, and ice hockey from 2008-2016. All of the other sports showed a decline. The decline in sports alone is due to how expensive it is to play, no longer fun (with early specialization), safety concerns, and time commitments.
Technology is another reason there is lack of physical activity. Prior to the internet, it was easy to get out of the house and play with friends. When I was growing up I used to run home after the bus dropped me off so that I could go out and play with my friends whether it was baseball, basketball or football. Today, a lot of kids are running home to play video games or use their tablet or phone for enjoyment. I was actually just having this conversation the other day with a colleague. Technology is like a double edged sword because as a parent if your kids are in the house playing and you are aware of where they are at it’s safe. If they’re out of the house and you can’t see them there is a slight worry factor, but that’s just the world we live in today with the media constantly feeding us bad news to worry us (or prepare us). That’s a whole other issue!
Another challenge to getting children to be more active is the increased demands at school. With testing a lot of schools eliminated recess so the schools can spend more time on preparing students for state mandated tests. The school needs kids to pass these tests so teachers can make bonus money as well as the school receive increased funding.
A lack of active role models is another challenge. If a child’s parents aren’t active in their life, then there is a big chance the kids aren’t active as well. I am fortunate to have a small gym in my garage and my kids love to come outside with me when I workout. Yes, they’re young, but they ask questions as to why I’m working out and they now understand that it means a lot to be active and exercise. My wife goes for walks multiple times a week and my kids want to go with her. I know it’s not possible with every parent to be active, but if you’re at home just watching tv when you can be exercising you’re part of the problem.
For many of us parents it’s tough to get children involved with sports because they are expensive and we just don’t have enough time, but there are ways to get your children more active. The benefits alone should help parents at least experiment with new ways and ideas to get their children more active.
The benefits of being active include strong muscles and bones, healthy weight, decreased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, better sleep, improved immune system, strengthening of the entire cardiovascular system, better body control, and there have been studies that report exercise decreases anxiety, reduces depression and even improves their mood.
How do we get kids to be more active? How as parents, teachers, coaches can we help encourage kids? It starts with motivation and finding what motivates kids. Next you have to understand that choosing the right activity for the children’s age is just as important. You don’t probably don’t want to sign up your child for a competitive travel team. The child is at risk for becoming frustrated and bored. As parents you do need to make sure you provide the opportunity for your kids to be active which includes providing equipment, signing them up for classes or sports teams, taking them to the playground, and even exercising together.
Make it fun may be the best tip for helping children be more active. You can’t take it too seriously or they will be bored and discouraged. It’s as simple as putting on some music and dancing, providing a bike or equipment that’s fun like throwing a ball, or toys that get them moving. And while you’re having fun, it's a great idea to provide that positive reinforcement so cheer them on and support them. Show you’re interested in what they’re doing even if you’re not a fan of the sport.
Limit technology time. This is obvious, but tough to be conscious of due to our busy lives. Set designated hours for TV, phone and video games. Take a family hike, or walk around the neighborhood. As the parent you’re a role model and your child will naturally be interested in the activities you enjoy as long as you lead the way and partake in them.
Having a friend come along is another way to help increase activity time. If you’re going to the park, or playing a sport and a friend comes along it’s that much easier for your child to play. Everyone loves their friends and what a better way to spend time than doing something together with a friend. Thinking of my childhood, some of my friends that recommended sports and played had a greater influence on that sport and my participation than my parents.
Gifts that promote physical activity are another great way to encourage activity. Purchasing a basketball hoop, bikes, and even active video games can help get children moving. Technology has come a long way and even the step counters are a way to bring some competition into the mix. Imagine if the whole family had a FitBit or Apple Watch and can track steps and make it a competition?
Assigning chores are another way to get some activity in. Cutting the grass, pushing a broom, yard work and washing a car isn't fun, but they do count as physical activity. You can also take your kids to sporting events to peak their interest. Your child will get the chance to see professionals play and may pick up a new role model and excited to do exercise at home or play that particular sport.
What parents, children and everyone needs to understand is that there are ways you can get kids to be active. As well as ways to encourage children that living a healthy lifestyle should be part of their lifestyle forever. Who doesn’t want their kids to live and be healthy? Especially if the parents and kids can have some control over that aspect of their child's life? I understand a lot of this is common sense and I understand not everyone is healthy enough to play with their children as well as some kids don’t have a role model that’s around. For those parents and guardians that are around, let’s help our children out by being more conscious of our own lifestyle. Parks, walks, and dancing are all a great and free alternative to sitting at home on the couch.