Is it just me or does there seem to be more overweight kids running around (or maybe I should say, “not running around”)? According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), it’s not just me. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2012, more than 1 in 3 children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
That’s somewhat frightening, but even scarier are the stats showing that obese kids become obese adults making them more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. If you think healthcare is expensive now, just wait!
According to Roland Jehl, personal fitness trainer and nutritional counselor for 35 years, activity is the big issue. “Sometimes it’s harder to get kids to change their food choices, but you can help your kids increase their activity level.” Over his career, Roland has been active in all areas of professional fitness – and he has 2 healthy kids - so he’s very qualified to help on this topic.
Here are his 7 tips …
1) Limit screen time
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American kid now spends 7 hours and 38 minutes per day using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device - that’s practically every waking minute outside of school time (click here to tweet this factoid and article!). At the risk of sounding like the “when-I-was-a-kid” person (up hills both ways, blah blah blah), WOW! I’m sure this is a big shift in how kids spend down time compared to just 5-10 years ago. Roland warns, “All these devices can lead directly to inactivity.” And we all know what that leads to (see stats above).
2) Use screen time
In the spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”….you can be more strategic about screen time, too. “For parents with kids who are big time into video games, use it to your advantage. Get them moving and on their feet instead of just pulling a trigger. When my son was about 10 years old, we got concerned that he was gaining weight and even worse, he felt bad about it. So, we got him a Dance Dance Revolution game pad. This was a great way to satisfy his love for video games AND get him moving. During the game, kids see a cool music video featuring animated on-screen dancers. They’re shown how to make steps on a floor pad and then they try. In our experience, if they love games, they’ll get addicted. They start slowly and then they’re trying to beat their last score. The levels increase, they get into competitions with other kids and so on. Our son dropped about 20 pounds in a month. He’d literally do it for 2 to 3 hours a day.” The moral: take the addiction to a screen and turn it into an activity. “There are many activity-driven video games to choose from and this can be a relatively low-cost exercise option. It’s also great because weather doesn’t matter – kids can do it any time.”
3) Make it a family affair
Today, there are more two-parent working families, so fitting in exercise time can be challenging. Roland advises, “Be sure you have workout time as a family. It doesn’t need to be something intense or expensive. You can get some good activity from simple things like ping-pong, badminton, or going to the gym to play volleyball or basketball. The key is that you do something on a regular and scheduled basis. Don’t do it once and then stop. You need to get proficient enough at an activity so that it’s fun and you look forward to it. For instance, tennis might not be a good choice because it takes so long to get good at it. Saturday night bike rides was our family’s activity of choice.”
4) Get to a track
“It’s important for kids to get good at learning to jog or power walk because these are staple workouts and great ways to get high-intensity exercise for life. There’s a track close to just about every neighborhood - in a park or at a school - so use it! Choose a time each week when you’ll do this with your kids and make it a routine.”
5) Hit the gym
As an adult who didn’t start going to a fitness center until later in life, I found it to be very overwhelming. I also unwittingly chose what you might refer to as a “muscle head” gym, but I really learned how to use the machines and free weights properly! Today, however, there are many more family-friendly choices. Roland says, “Most kids love the idea of a gym because there are so many fun machines to play on and learn. It’s important to get them used to it when they’re young, so they’re not fearful as an adult. Obviously, it’s better for older kids and it’s important to supervise them. I suggest getting them a few sessions with a trainer so they learn to use the equipment properly. Many gyms include a few free trainer sessions, so take advantage of those."
6) Try martial arts
“Martial arts is becoming a leading activity for kids and there are so many great facets. Not only does it provide intense activity, it’s great for flexibility and breathing. On the non-activity side, it teaches respect for parents and elders, as well as personal discipline. When kids are in that disciplined setting with an instructor who knows how to direct them, the learnings from martial arts tends to carry over to their other activities and positively impacts the whole family.”
7) A note on food
Roland is a fitness trainer AND a nutritional counselor, so we couldn’t have an article about activity without a little advice on food intake. After all, they go hand-in-hand! He says, “Too many kids are skipping breakfast. They may feel like their stomachs aren’t ready for food in the morning, but it’s the most important time of the day to eat to get metabolism moving. Every time you eat, your metabolism increases 10% - this helps your body process the fuel in the food to energy needed to power everything we do. Not all food is equal, so avoid sugared cereals and foods like Pop-Tarts.
“At lunch, include veggies and fruits. If your kids are picky, try new ideas – these days, there are many options to choose from. At night, cut out starches and sugars after 7pm. These 2 carbohydrates are energy foods and right before bed is when we least need energy. When you eat carbohydrates late at night, they get stored and become body fat instead of getting burned or used.”
The bottom line for all of this is that kids don’t have a lot of choice in their life. They follow their parent’s guidance and lifestyle choices. So, it’s up to you to make the right choices and set the example of healthy eating and activity levels.
Now, it's your turn! Do you have activities you do with your kids on a regular basis? What tips would you give? Comment below with your thoughts and questions!