What do parents say is the main reason their children are overweight? According to an AP-KOL poll on attitudes about childhood obesity (October, 2005), of the 21% of parents surveyed who admitted their children were overweight, 38% said that lack of exercise was the main culprit. Easy access to junk food came in a close second, followed by genetics and eating unhealthy food. The telephone interviews were conducted by Ipsos, an international polling firm for Associated Press (AP) and KOL, America Online’s kid’s service, and included 961 randomly selected parents from across the United States.
The results of this poll highlight a need that fitness professionals happen to excel at: giving credible exercise advice that gets results. Even if you don’t work directly with children, chances are very good that you work with someone’s mother, father or legal guardian. Have you ever had a client mention his frustration over a child’s television viewing habits? Has one of your participants ever approached you about ways to motivate her son to exercise? This proximity puts you in an important strategic position in the fight against childhood obesity.
One simple piece of advice that may seem too obvious is to get outside and play. Children today have an arsenal of entertainment options, many of which keep them glued to a chair or a couch. Phil Black, a personal fitness trainer and former Navy SEAL instructor, used his knowledge of body weight exercises to invent FitDeck® Jr. The concept is simple. It’s a deck of 50 cards, each one featuring a different exercise. Some of the choices are based on classic kid’s games such as snow angels, hot potato and red rover. Black says a return to basics is also a great way to help children develop important motor skills. There are many different ways to use the deck, but the main winning aspect is that it is fun.
“You don’t have to have gym memberships for the entire family,” Black says, “[FitDeck Jr.] is something parents can do with kids. You may not be able to play team sports with them or bring them to the gym with you, but you can pull a card and do a quick and easy exercise.”
Black, who lives in San Diego and is the father of twins, says the most important way to get kids moving is for parents to model the behavior themselves. This is one area where your clients may already be on the right path. “It’s hypocritical of parents to expect their kids to exercise if they aren’t doing it themselves,” he says. “If you are sedentary, chances are your kids will be, too.”
Get in the Trenches
In addition to modeling active behavior, parents may want to take an interest in their children’s current activities and find ways to integrate exercise. For example, IDEA member Hiba Shublak, founder of Active Learning, an organization that incorporates physical activities, dance and nutrition into academic lessons, created a hip-hop program. The idea was to present something specifically to get students ages 10 and older moving. Shublak honed in on hip-hop because of its wide appeal.
“I took away the sexual undertones and focused on the fun, cultural playfulness,” says Shublak, who lives in Westminster, California. “The kids love it, it’s something they’re already interested in, and they forget they are exercising. I make it accessible to kids of all abilities so that everyone feels successful. The kids can learn the moves and practice at home.”
Shublak’s program also features other unique offerings for kids and their families, with a strong focus on learning while exercising. She encourages parents to really connect with their kids’ interests. “Put kids in a variety of programs and explore everything you can in order to find what they most enjoy. If they try one thing and aren’t good at it, try something else. The more variety, the better.”
What if your child’s interests include video games? That may not be as bad as you think. Merriene Lidow, a personal fitness trainer who lives in Smyrna, Georgia, uses gaming in her program design. She had already seen how her own children loved playing Dance Dance Revolution™, an interactive dance game, and decided to give it a try. “I train a family and while the walking program was successful, it was boring,” she says. “So we hooked up Dance Dance Revolution and let the kids kind of take over.”
Lidow says the kids were not the only ones to benefit from the gaming session—the parents enjoyed it, too. “It became part of a bigger program that taught important lessons about health. But more than anything, it connected playfulness with exercise, and that is something [I hope] the kids will take with them into adulthood.”
Want more information on how to motivate children and adolescents? Look for a CEC article on kids and exercise psychology in the next issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.
* To engage the core muscles, think of resisting the urge to go to the bathroom.
**To set the shoulders, squeeze the shoulder blades toward the spine, then pull them down the back toward the hips.
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