Currently in the United States we are experiencing an epidemic of obesity, especially among children. The fastest growing age group is from 2-5 years old. Many of my patients started out as overweight children.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of overweight children 2-5 years of age has doubled, with one in four pre-schooler’s being overweight or at risk for obesity. Fifty percent of these children will become obese adults. Prevention requires reaching children before the age of 6.
Here are a few tips to help your child be more active. Organized sports are great, but not all children are comfortable with competitive activities or they just get burned out on them. That can turn them off to being physically active, sometimes for good.
There are lots of other activities your child may enjoy besides organized sports. Your best bet is to lead by example and keep it simple. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to keep your child active but it may require some creativity and it does take time. For busy parents, that means making the most of every opportunity. For example, little children love to help with things like vacuuming or gardening. It won’t be as efficient, but it teaches them good habits and gets them off the couch.
Probably the single most important thing that you can do is limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV, and/or with electronic devices such as Game Boys and computers. These devices keep your child absorbed for long periods of time during which there is no physical activity. There is a growing body of research suggesting that the over use of electronics compromises neurological development and can lead to sleep disturbances, excessive aggression and even wrist and back injury. And of course, we know that the lack of activity is a key factor in the increased incidence of obesity.
Here are some other activities that may interest your child:
• Riding a bike – ride with them if you can. The best thing you can do is set an example!
• Climbing on a jungle gym – If you don’t have one, they are in almost every park today.
• Jumping rope – this can even be done in-doors if you have a basement.
• Playing hopscotch – can also be done indoors on a foam version of this old time favorite
• Bouncing a ball, throwing a ball, hitting a ball…children love balls
• Dancing – my grandsons (a 3 year old and a 14 month old) become hysterical when we dance together. We can do it on and off for hours to the beat of pop music. We even “seat dance” during long car rides. You can teach a 2 year old to “raise the roof” which provides more exercise than you might think.
• Shooting hoops – you can now get back-boards that are adjustable for younger children and simply grow with them. If that isn’t in the budget, many parks have hoops, just bring your own basketball
• A trampoline – either an in-door or an out-door version, is a great way for kids and their parents to get exercise in a confined space
• Hiking is a great family activity – or barring a convenient place to hike, walk with your child to a nearby store instead of driving
In general, the more fun it is, the more likely they are to engage. For example, little children love running through water sprinklers, even the ones who don’t enjoy swimming. They can get plenty of exercise at a water-playground, which more and more parks have instead of pools. Or you can purchase an attachment for your backyard hose that many children find delightful.
Maybe your child doesn’t like organized sports such as basketball, soccer, soft-ball or tennis. Let him or her kick the soccer ball around in the park, or hit a tennis ball against the garage or play a game of PIG with you at a local park. Parents tend to lose sight of why children need sports in their life. They need the exercise. Yes they need to learn self-discipline and sportsmanship and how to be a part of a team, but too often the pressure to be great at all of these things backfires and the child’s self-image is damaged. Some children turn to food as a way of compensating for low self-esteem. Others decide that they are inadequate when it comes to sports and refuse to engage in any physical activities as teenagers and young adults.
The idea, especially for little children, is for them to have fun using their bodies and being creative when it comes to entertaining themselves. If you are a city dweller and your child does not have access to a soccer field, but you live on a street where there isn’t much traffic, help the neighborhood children organize a street ball or sand lot game. Children learn a lot about cooperation and teamwork when they are the ones responsible for organizing their free time.
This is all easier if you start them off on the right foot, i.e. when they are very small. But don’t worry if you haven’t. There is no time like the present. Start slow and keep trying. You couldn’t make a better investment in your child’s health and well-being!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Childhood Obesity Facts (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm)
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© 2008, Dr J Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr J Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible.
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