It has gone from a disturbing trend to a national epidemic. Our nation’s youth are becoming overweight, obese, and unhealthy due to a variety of lifestyle factors. According to the Center for Disease control, about one-third of our nation’s youth are overweight. 17% are considered obese, of which 70% carry at least 1 risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It is estimated that 80% of these obese youth will grow to become obese adults.
A marked decrease in physical activity and an increase in the consumption of low nutrient food items are two of the lifestyle factors commonly linked to primary causes of this health calamity.
A smorgasbord of finger pointing has erupted over who is responsible for letting this happen to our children. Schools have fewer PE programs, urban communities lack safe outdoor activity areas, junk food companies target youth in their marketing, and video games command youth free-time pursuits. Before we unholster our pointing fingers to join the shootout, some compelling data out of Duke University suggests we may find a better solution by looking at how we introduce physical activity at home.
Researchers determined that parents’ attitudes and behaviors towards exercise was an extremely powerful predictor of physical activity patterns in youth under 10 years of age. This is in line with previous research by the U.S. Department of Health.
If home really is where the health is, what can we as busy, stressed out, over-committed parents do to introduce our kids to a healthy, active lifestyle?
Below are three simple, practical strategies to introduce your children to a life of health and happiness.
1. Watch your language! Our children’s attitudes and behaviors toward physical activity and exercise are directly correlated to ours. If we as adults approach physical activity as a punishment, i.e. “Dad has to do exercise because he got fat,” kids begin to share our view and act accordingly. Exercise isn’t punishment. Highlight the positives in your language towards physical activity i.e., “Mom’s going to exercise so she can get some energy!”
2. Focus on fun! If children don’t enjoy an activity, the odds of them continuing to do it are slim to none. Forcing children into activities they don’t enjoy ensures they will avoid them whenever possible. Longitudinal research on high performing athletes has demonstrated that the primary factor in long-term athletic success is a child’s level of enjoyment with their chosen sport. Fortunately, there are a variety of possible physical activities youth can be involved in. Keep experimenting until you find something they enjoy then facilitate their participation in that activity whenever possible.
3. Be active with them! Some of my favorite memories of childhood were family bike rides, whiffle ball games in the back yard, and scenic hikes to “secret” (brilliant parent marketing term) locations. I honestly don’t remember much about sitting around watching sitcoms.
What will your kids remember about physical activity and your family?
Go to the park, make up games, go outside, and make a conscious effort to limit technology (TV, i-devices, video games, etc.). Technology is part of modern life, however, it can become a consuming addiction that negatively impacts every member of the household. Focus on becoming a physical activity role model for your children in your thoughts and actions. We can all do our part to reverse the current negative trends and guide our youth to one day become happy, healthy, disease-free adults.
Brett Klika C.S.C.S., author of “The Underground Workout Manual- Exercise and Fat Loss in the Real World” (www.undergroundworkoutmanual.com) is a world- renowned human performance specialist, motivational speaker, author, and educator. He uses this knowledge and experience to motivate individuals and audiences around the world through his writing, speaking, DVD’s, and free blog, www.brettklika.com.