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Nip Obesity in the Bud

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on Mar 01, 2006

Children need help to live healthy lifestyles, and you are in the perfect position to provide that help.

The statistics on America’s childhood obesity epidemic are well known, but that does not make them any less shocking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity among children ages 6–11 has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The rate among adolescents (12–19 years) has more than tripled, growing from 5% to 16%. And the problem does not stop at childhood. Overweight young people are more likely to become overweight adults at increased risk for future health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis. What can you do to help combat this growing problem?

The good news is that you have the ability to help effectively deal with this health crisis while simultaneously increasing profits for your facility. The thing to remember is that healthy kids = happy parents. Providing well-organized kids’ programs leads to retention and increased membership among adults as well.

Doing Your Part

Physical activity is the first line of defense against childhood obesity. By implementing fun, healthy programs at your facility, you can instill a positive fitness mentality in today’s children, who are constantly lured by television and video games. But combating the obesity epidemic takes more than circle singing time or supervised recess; it requires specially designed, organized fitness programs that provide children with opportunities to be active in ways that are entertaining and exciting for them. Turn your club into an affordable, safe, supervised environment where youngsters can exercise, learn about fitness and health, and have fun.

Seven Tips for Youth Programming

Here are seven ways your facility can join the fight against childhood obesity and improve your bottom line.

1. Get Kids in the Door. Getting kids into your facility is the first step. Offer discounted student memberships for teenagers and/or junior memberships for children as part of a family membership package.

2. Create a “Kid Zone.” Give kids a feeling of ownership of the youth program by dedicating a specific area, no matter how small, to them. Doing so also sends a strong message to members regarding your commitment to helping kids get fit. Stock the area with inviting, fitness-related toys, such as hoops, jump ropes and balls.

3. Offer Nutrition Seminars. Establish regular nutrition education classes for members with children, and go beyond general information. Emphasize nutrition for children at different age levels, and include tips to encourage children to eat a healthy diet (see “Resources” on page 11).

4. Make Fitness a Family Event. Offer parent-child or family fitness classes that teach children that physical activity is enjoyable. Sharing exercise also encourages parents to be fitness role models.

5. Reach Out to Kids’ Friends. Offer youth programs to nonmembers as well. Doing so opens up opportunities for more children to become involved in physical activity and exposes your facility to a pool of potential adult members who might otherwise never visit your club. Kids’ programs also add to the image of your facility as a community resource, rather than an exclusive club.

6. Make the Most of Your Existing Amenities. Changing the obesity trend doesn’t necessarily require a significant change on your part. Offer sport lessons based on the amenities your facility already has. If your club has a pool, offer swimming lessons; if your facility has a basketball court, offer basketball lessons.

7. Make Your Club a Place to Celebrate. Develop a program that allows parents to throw birthday parties for their children, either in the Kid Zone or in the main area of the club during off-hours. Organize games and activities that incorporate fitness, such as relay races or basketball.

Community Outreach

Your efforts needn’t be confined within the walls of your facility. By reaching out into the community, you can get your message to even more children and enhance your image and reputation. For example, consider partnering with local schools. Develop after-school fitness programs, or offer regular programs during physical education classes. In return, request that the school allow you to promote your club’s programs and send literature and guest passes home with the students.

Consider organizing visits to a playground or park so that children have a safe opportunity to exercise when they might otherwise be sitting in front of a television or a computer. Several clubs offer fitness camps during school vacations. Working parents especially appreciate this opportunity to bring their children to a safe environment where they know the day will be spent centered on healthy activities.

Another idea is to organize field trips to your facility. Schools and daycare centers can bring their classes to your club for an hour or a day of fun. Arrange special activities for the kids, such as dance classes, swimming or a basketball game. Be sure to offer activities that are appealing to both genders, as well as to children with limited physical capabilities. These types of field trips can introduce children to new physical skills and teach them that working out is fun. In turn, they will introduce your club to their parents and friends.

Patterns of Success

Several progressive health facilities have already begun catering to children and are reaping the rewards. Below are some examples of successful children’s programs.

New York Health and Racquet Club. With facilities located throughout Manhattan, this club reaches out to children through its “Fit Kids” program, which incorporates swimming, gymnastics, sports and hip-hop dance.

Sport and Health Club (Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia). At this facility’s “Kidz Klub,” children and teens enjoy swimming, dancing, racquet sports and field trips. In addition, summer camps emphasize a variety of activities, including tennis, basketball, soccer and dance.

The Children’s Health Club (Miami). This specialized facility offers programs for children as young as 6 months and up to 14 years of age. Activities include “Move and Groove” and “Sports for Sprouts” for little ones; and karate, yoga, gymnastics and acrobatic cheerleading for older children. Camps are also offered on school vacation days.

Brick Bodies (Maryland, New York, Florida). This gym offers age-specific programs, including “Pedal Pumpers,” a cycling class for 12- to 17-year-olds; “Little Steps for Little Women,” a class designed to teach 7- to 9-year-old girls the basics of step, yoga and muscle conditioning; and “Mommy and Me Pilates” for mothers and children ages 4–8.

One on One Athletic Club (Ann Arbor, Michigan). Through its “Adopt-a-School” program, One on One works with local elementary schools to educate children on nutrition and exercise. Additionally, to encourage teenagers to exercise and reward them for their commitment to sports, the club offers a special program to all high-school varsity athletes that allows them to use the facility absolutely free.

Do It for the Kids

You have the opportunity to make an impact on the health of American youth. Facilities just like yours are already jumping at the opportunity to help this underserved market. So can you. By opening your doors to children, you can become part of the solution. As an added benefit, you will most likely see an increase in profits over time. Your club can be transformed from a simple business to a community resource that is truly making a difference.


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American kids give their health clubs a workout as physical fitness becomes a part of the back-to-school routine. 2004. Business Wire, September 23, 2004.

Brehm, B. 1995. The skinny on childhood obesity. Fitness Management, July 1995.

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Falcone, L. 2000. Pumped up: Fitness centers add weight lifting and resistance training. Boston Herald, October 10, 2000.

Graham, G. 2001. Impact of youth programming on facility design. Fitness Management, July 2001.

O’Brien, T., & Sattler, T. 1998. Marketing youth programs. Fitness Management, November 1998.

Shaver, J. 2005. Blazing a new trail. Fitness Business Pro, August 1, 2005.

Silence, M. 2004. Fitness for the young: How to start a fitness/wellness program at your facility for preschool-age children. Fitness Management, December 2004.

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About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she is a health writer for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at