Today, there’s a world of entertainment for kids that has nothing to do with playing outside. It’s not uncommon for the overweight children I counsel to tell me they spend four or more hours a day watching TV or on a tablet, which leaves little time to be active.
Establishing healthy activity and eating patterns needs to start at a young age for us to see
a reversal in the obesity epidemic, one of the largest contributing factors to increased cancer risk. Yet only about a quarter of kids get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily, including kids who are overweight, which is about a third of children and adolescents.
For these kids, it can be more difficult to be active due to embarrassment, peer bullying and physical challenges associated with getting into an activity routine. Overweight and obese youth also tend to be less active due to poor motor skills, says Avery Faigenbaum, EdD, an expert on pediatric exercise at The College of New Jersey.
So how can we get kids who are overweight to be more active? Faigenbaum presented research at a recent weight management conference on effective ways to increase activity among overweight youth.
First, it’s important for parents to be involved and encouraging. Research shows that parents today see normal weight children as being underweight, while overweight children are viewed as normal, and children with obesity as seen as being just “a little too heavy.” As Faigenbaum pointed out, with these misconceptions parents are much less likely to prioritize healthy behaviors like physical activity.
Second, the activity should be something the child will enjoy. When my pediatric patients see me for help with weight loss, the parents often suggest getting their child to go to the gym. Very few kids are going to be excited about a gym; I suggest parents and caregivers focus on increasing playtime.
A great place to start is with supervised strength training. Faigenbaum noted that overweight kids are more likely to do strength training than aerobic training – it can be easier, and less burdensome. Although aerobic activity is important, if you start with fun activities involving strength exercises you can build up the child’s confidence and strength over time to eventually include more aerobics.
Try games where kids toss balls with varying high-to-low throws, he suggested. Squatting to catch a low throw is much more fun than standing at the gym doing squats. Medicine balls are great because kids can use at home and while playing with others.
Parents/caregivers should also encourage kids to be creative and come up with their own exercises – this makes the activity more fun.
The bottom line: It’s too challenging and discouraging for an overweight child to jump right into high intensity physical activity. We need to start by simply getting kids out of being sedentary through fun activities, then work up from there.
For more information on helping kids become healthy adults, visit AICR’s new Healthy Kids. For more reading, a New York Times piece last week on screen addiction notes the many harmful issues related to too much screen time.
What activities do you suggest to get kids moving more?