And 10 tips to take charge, get your child off the couch and get fit now!
March 5, 2015
By Doug Werner
Sufficient evidence is in and there is no debate! The USA, in fact most of the world, is suffering from a childhood obesity crisis of epidemic proportions. An epidemic that not only dooms its victims to a lifetime of chronic illness, psychological disorders and even early death, but one whose current and future costs are also posing a real economic threat to healthcare systems all over the world.
According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, nearly 1/3 of all American children under the age of 18 are overweight or obese, and that number has grown by 10% every decade for the last 30 years. Designed to Move, a recent physical activity action agenda created by Nike and The American College of Sports Medicine, estimates that today’s generation of American youth will be the first in our history that will not live longer lives than their parents. And, according to The Impact of Obesity on Health Service Utilization and Costs in Childhood Obesity, a 2009 study, the total direct healthcare costs attributable to childhood obesity in America alone is $14.1bn per year, with healthcare costs for obese children nearly 48% higher than non-obese children.
No, there is no longer any debate about the staggering human and financial costs of this chronic illness. It is deadly and it is getting worse! However, there is plenty of debate about who’s responsible for solving the physical inactivity and diet issues which are routinely considered the primary drivers of this condition. And, as they are prone to do with any issue which demands personal responsibility and accountability, the nanny state is doing its best to regulate, and legislate, solutions. From taxes on ‘sugary drinks’ to ‘fast food free zones’ near schools, state and federal government is taking a stance on this issue which by design almost completely ignores the key influence in this battle…the role of the parent!
Standing on the demarcation line all too frequently crossed by the nanny state, ask yourself the following questions. Who is routinely determined to be responsible for kids brushing their teeth every day? Who is responsible for kids doing their homework every night? Kids obeying the law? Getting enough sleep? Taking a bath? Ask any doctor, dentist, cop or teacher who needs to ‘take charge’ of a child’s behavior and you’ll get the same answer…the parents! The government can pass all the laws they want regarding bedtime, without the demands of a parent, few children are headed to bed before passing out in front of an electronic device of some sort. Yet, when it comes to meals and exercise, we need to depend on government intrusion and policymaking to ensure the right behaviors? As the parent of two teenage children, I think not. And, does anyone really believe that an extra 5 or 10 cents per soda, or an extra 5 minute drive or walk for a Big Mac is going to change anyone’s eating habits? Really?
By absolving parents of most of the responsibility for their children’s actions around this issue, whether by design, implication or ignorance, the nanny state is only making the childhood obesity epidemic worse! As with most areas of childhood development, most kids need their parents to be committed to providing an environment that encourages a healthy lifestyle. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that our education system, which over the last 30 years has offered up only one or two hours of gym class per week in elementary schools, has already contributed to this dilemma by unintentionally deceiving parents into believing their children were getting ‘all the exercise they need’ at school (after all, most of us feel that way about most other subjects at school). Kids need a minimum of 60 minutes per day of exercise to be healthy…not 1 or 2 hours per week! Not coincidentally, physical education is typically one of the few subjects in schools that also issues no homework! Our government can force any physical education requirements they want on schools, without the engagement and inspiration of parents at home, and for 365 days per year, most overweight or inactive children will not benefit nearly enough to solve the problem.
So what’s a conscientious parent to do to insure their child grows up with a firm respect for the need to be fit and healthy? Well, like most other values that children learn, the earlier the better. And, of course, parental role modeling, commitment and involvement are essentials as well. But therein lays a tremendous win-win too! Daily involvement in your child’s exercise program not only helps to improve their health and fitness, but it will also benefit you. And, in addition to the obvious physical fitness rewards, there are significant bonding benefits as well. Here are ten ways to promote exercise within your family.
- No time to exercise? Cut out at least one hour of TV each night, go to bed an hour earlier and get up an hour earlier – the average child in America watches 25 hours of TV per week – their parents are watching nearly 35 hours per week – watch less and exercise more!
- Buy each member of your family an inexpensive pedometer and set a daily goal of 10,000 steps or more per person (less for younger children) – make this fun by encouraging competition and offering fun awards for daily, weekly or monthly achievement.
- Establish a daily exercise ‘routine’ for each member of your family that is scheduled and non-negotiable – make this fun for your children by allowing them to help choose their designated time and activity and to ‘track’ their results on a calendar.
- Establish a regular weekend routine that includes family hikes, jogs, bike rides, paddling or swimming – make this fun for your children by choosing a different destination or activity each weekend.
- Set a family goal to complete a minimum number of ‘walk/run’ events together each year – make this fun by occasionally choosing events in family friendly areas that are new to your family.
- Watching a long TV movie or sporting event together? Use the ‘pause’ button to take an ‘exercise break’ or to get outside and simulate the game you’re watching.
- Use the car less and your feet more – whenever possible, walk, bike or jog instead of ride – don’t let your children get ‘hooked’ on motorized transportation. If you do need to drive, park as far as safely possible from your destination – don’t send the wrong message to your children by lazily cruising parking lots looking for spaces ‘near the door’.
- On long trips; build in walks, hikes or jogs along the way – use a map to find safe and convenient pedestrian areas or parks along your route – a great way to improve your sightseeing experience as well.
- Join a family friendly fitness center – there are nearly 30,000 health clubs in America and most offer a wide variety of affordable exercise options for families – go to http://www.healthclubs.com to find a club near you.
- Not sure where to start…take a walk! Of walking, Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke of the American College of Sports Medicine says, “There are certainly many forms of cardiovascular exercise that improve health and fitness, such as running, cycling, and swimming. But, from the perspective of finding a great exercise program for the most number of people, walking is the best bang for your buck.” And, done with your child, walking provides a wonderful bonding experience as well.
Doug Werner is a parent of two teenage children and the author of ‘Abbie Gets Fit’, the critically acclaimed children’s book chronicling a true story about one nine year old girl’s journey to get fit with Doug…her dad. He is a member of The American College of Sports Medicine, a 35-year veteran of the fitness industry and a recipient of that industry’s Distinguished Service Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ‘Abbie Gets Fit’ is available at www.abbiegetsfit.com or www.amazon.com.