Active children - an investment of a lifetime
Childhood obesity is a growing and global problem. Actually, it is one of the most serious public health challenges of this century. WHO estimated that in 2015 there were over 42 million obese children under the age of 5 – and the number is increasing at an alarming rate.
Obese children have a higher risk in adulthood of obesity, premature death and disability. But in childhood they also have increased risk of breathing difficulties, fractures, hypertension, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and psychological effects like stress, sadness and low self-esteem.
Inactivity is one of the big sinners
Today, many children spend a lot of time being inactive. For example, the average child spends approximately four hours each day watching television. As computers and video games become increasingly popular, the number of hours of inactivity may increase.
A lot of children take the bus to school, or maybe their parents taken them there by car. Then they spend many hours sitting at a desk in school, and later they take the bus or car home again. And, after a long day in school, many children are so tired that they just collapse on the couch with an iPad or maybe some homework.
But inactivity is a serious problem – both among adults and children… Lack of exercise can result in overweight, but it can also result in weaker muscles and bones. Inactive children also have increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, may have higher blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, and are at risk of developing mental and social disadvantages.
Help your children get active
Help your child to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Enroll them in sports activities that they enjoy, so they are more likely to stick with them. Simply find something they look forward to, and let it be a reward and not a “punishment”. Make sure your children work on both their strength, their endurance and their flexibility. For example, they build endurance through activities like soccer, basketball, bicycling, running, swimming or dancing – and strength through activities like push-ups, jumping, climbing, gymnastics etc. For better flexibility try children's yoga, gymnastics or maybe ballet.
It is also a good idea to limit the time spent in front of a screen. Make a rule of maximum 1 hour for video games, television, Internet etc. everyday. And it is a very good idea to give your children some chores in the house. For example, they could have a weekly “dinner cooking” day, or they could help mow the lawn, wash the floors etc. Children actually learn a lot by having chores, and they develop greater self-esteem also – they experience that they can achieve something, and that hard work pays off. So, it’s a win-win situation.
Step by step and be a good role model
WHO recommends a progressive increase in activity to eventually achieve the target of a minimum 60 minutes of physical activity every day. For example, start with 15 minutes a day, then build up to 30 minutes and so forth. And be aware that if your children are currently doing no physical activity, 15 minutes will bring more benefits than doing nothing at all… So take it step by step, and allow your child to get some successes before pushing for more.
Start by pointing out the benefits of physical activity to your children. Let them know why inactivity can be a health risk, and what you can do about it. And make sure to tell your children that you support them, and that you accept them at any weight and level of activity. Help them feel good about themselves, and get them motivated in a positive manner.
The best way to help your child get more active is to involve the whole family! That way no one is singled out, and by making it a team effort, the success rate will be higher. And everyone will benefit from a more active lifestyle…
6 ways to more active family habits
1) Remember that your children do what you do, and not what you tell them do to… So be a good example! If your children see you being physically active and having fun, they are more likely to be active themselves.
2) Include physical activities in the daily family routines. Plan family activities that include walking, biking, playing soccer or going swimming.
3) Remember to listen to your child’s needs. Some overweight children find it very difficult and uncomfortable to participate in physical activity. So, find something that he or she likes to do. Make it a fun activity for everyone.
4) Set rules for sedentary activities, like watching TV, playing video games, iPads etc. For example, you could make a rule that said max. 1 hour of screen time every day.
5) Make family goals and rewards when you achieve them. For example, set a goal for the whole family to walk more than 225,000 steps each week (10,000 steps per adult and 12,000 steps per child per day is a good goal), and let the reward be something fun for the whole family, e.g. a trip to the beach.
6) Use apps and gadgets to encourage your children (and yourself) to be more active. It is a fun way to stay motivated.
Did you know
That 81% of adolescents do not achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day? What about your children?
That obese children are likely to remain obese as adults and are at risk of chronic illness and premature death?
That physical activity has been associated with psychological benefits in young people by assisting in social development by providing opportunities for self-expression, building self-confidence, social interaction and integration?