Kids and Fitness: A Growing Concern
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In this digital age of video games and social media, “screen time” is only fueling sedentary habits and obesity among children and teens.
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents overt the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We don’t expect our kids to be training for marathons, but parents need to promote fitness for their kids,” said Javier Hiriart, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group internist and pediatrician at West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “It starts with decreasing ‘screen time’ on TVs, laptops and smartphones and increasing physical activity.”
Nearly one in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. The numbers are higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40 percent of the children are overweight or obese.
There has been some progress in recognizing the problem through publicized clinical studies, media reports and various educational campaigns. First Lady Michelle Obama has taken an active role by spearheading “Let’s Move,” a public-private partnership that, for the first time, sets national goals to end childhood obesity in a generation.
But it is an uphill battle to overcome decades of a trend toward more sedentary lifestyles fueled by the computer age and fewer physical education requirements in public schools, Dr. Hiriart said.
The CDC has issued guidelines for schools to promote healthy eating and physical activity for both students and faculty. But the agency concedes that not “every strategy will be appropriate for every school, and some schools, due to resource limitations, might need to implement the guidelines incrementally.”
“There are other options, such as signing up for team sports in the school or in youth leagues,” Dr. Hiriart said. “The important thing is for your child to enjoy the activity or sport. Kids are likely to stay active if they find the activity to be fun.”
Unfortunately, the option of getting more physical activity through P.E. classes or team sports is diminishing across the nation in public schools, according to national data.
Nearly half (44 percent) of school administrators have cut significant amounts of time from physical education, citing budget cuts and a more rigid focus on academic performance, says a report issued last year by the U.S. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
According to the CDC, children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each and every day.
Aerobic activity should make up most of a child’s daily physical activity. This can include either moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or vigorous-intensity activity, such as running.
Be sure to include vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on at least three days per week. The CDC also recommends muscle-strengthening activities, such as gymnastics or push-ups, at least three days per week as part of your child’s 60 or more minutes.
Benefits of Regular Exercise
The CDC says daily physical activity can vastly improve the health and general well-being of children.
Regular exercise can:
- Help build and maintain healthy bones and muscles.
- Help reduce the risk of developing obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes.
- Reduce feelings of depression and anxiety and promote psychological well-being.
- Help improve students’ academic performance, including:
Academic achievement and grades.
Academic behavior, such as time on task.
Concentration and attentiveness in the classroom.
A child’s fitness and dietary habits start and are fostered in the home. Dr. Hiriart says that some parents need to take action to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and fast food with their kids. Then they have to get them away from their “screens.”
“We all know it’s not easy to get a child or teenager to do anything they don’t want to do,” he said. “But physical fitness has too many benefits to ignore, including helping to increase focus in school, improve sleeping habits and promote overall health.”
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