Obesity isn't just a growing problem in adults; it's a tsunami in kids too. Around 18.5% of children and adolescents are obese, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the rate of obesity is almost 14% in children between the ages of 2 and 5. So, the problem starts early.
Why is obesity so common in kids? Multiple factors contribute to the expanding waistlines of children, but one factor is a lack of physical activity. Decades ago, children played outdoors and participated in sports that kept them moving and boosted their heart rate. Now, you're more likely to see a child holding a smartphone or tablet and playing a game that burns few calories and does even less to improve their fitness level.
The good news? It's possible to change that. Here are some suggestions to help kids be more active:
Adopt a Dog
Children love dogs and having one teaches them how to be responsible. Studies show that adults who own dogs get an average of 22 minutes more walking in each day. The benefits of those walks add up! The same applies to children. Once a child reaches a suitable age, they can walk the dog and enjoy playtime with their canine companion. It's a win-win situation for dogs and children.
Assign Your Child Active Chores
Having chores to do teaches kids responsibility. Make sure some of those chores boost the heart rate and require them to move their bodies. Examples include washing the car, sweeping the sidewalk, raking leaves, vacuuming the house, water the plants, and taking out the trash. Doing these chores is helpful to the entire family and of benefit to a child's health.
Make Video Games Active Ones
Video games where you play while sitting in a chair does little to improve a child's cardiovascular health or lower their risk of obesity. However, there are a growing number of video games that emphasize movements that are kid-friendly and boost the heart rate. Some games place a child in a setting where they replicate the movements of playing a particular sport.
Do they work? One study of kids between the ages of 6 and 12 found those who played video games that required more movement burned 4-times more calories than those who played video games while sitting. It's a way to let kids do something they enjoy while benefiting their health.
Set a Good Example
Kids are more likely to be active if mom and dad are. When the weekend rolls around, don't head out to a movie. Instead, plan an active family outing. Take a hike in the great outdoors and soak up nature at the same time. Studies show that nature has a calming effect and trees release chemicals called phytoncides that are beneficial to immune health. How about a family bike ride? Be sure to wear helmets.
Plant a Family Garden
Gardening is a better exercise than most people think. Tending to a garden requires lots of lifting and squatting and these activities strengthen and enhance muscle endurance while burning calories. Plus, gardening teaches kids to grow and appreciate healthy food. If children pick produce from their own garden, they're less resistant to eating their veggies. After all, they grew them. Studies also show that kids who spend more time outdoors in nature and are exposed to dirt have a lower risk of developing allergies and asthma.
Start a Challenge
Kids enjoy challenges of all types. Why not set up a step challenge? Get the whole family involved and see who takes the most steps over a certain period of time. A pedometer is an inexpensive way to track step count and is available for children too. Whoever takes the most steps over the next week wins a special prize. Run the contest at least once a month and it will keep the whole family active.
Movement matters for health and for preventing childhood obesity. Now you know some practical ways to get your children to move more and have fun while doing it. Some of these help the whole family stay active and that's an added benefit any parent would appreciate.