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Children's Fitness and Childhood Obesity

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I've been fortunate enough to know Ken Germano for over 10 years and can absolutely say he's always enjoyed positively changing people's lives through physical fitness initiatives. He's done that working in just about every fitness arena from health clubs to representing major exercise equipment manufactures and now as the President of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

ACE is the largest governing body for fitness professionals and is the certification most clubs require when hiring personal trainers.

Ken has enormous responsibility in his position, from helping to raise the standards of fitness professionals, to helping Americans become more active. Our interview focused on the issue that is nearest and dearest to Ken -- childhood obesity.

Read on to find out the physical fitness challenges youths face, how activity levels are worsening, some staggering statistics and what you should and should not do to encourage your children to be physically active. As a bonus, ACE lists the top 10 fun fitness summer activities for kids.

How did children's fitness become a personal mission of yours?

Educating the public on this very serious issue and helping children achieve a healthier lifestyle through fitness has always been a passion and priority in my life. I have kept an eye on physical education initiatives in and outside of schools for years. In the early 1980's, I became very aware of the demise of physical education in schools and as a business person, I looked for ways to underscore initiatives.

I founded Operation FitKids in 1990 in response to a challenge by Arnold Schwarzenegger, former chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. His challenge was to support and underscore physical education initiatives in our nation's schools to improve the health and fitness of our country's youth.

Operation FitKids has since emerged as a significant program in the area of youth fitness, helping thousands of children experience the benefits of physical fitness each year and giving them a safe and productive place to spend their time.

Are children's activity levels improving or worsening... and how so?

Children’s activity levels have dropped significantly. There has been a dramatic increase in obesity rates and type 2 diabetes cases among children. Our school districts are strapped for funding and programs soon disappear as do the teachers that once drove these curriculums. We see more and more children watching television or sitting in front of computers instead of playing outside with friends or involved in team sports. To reverse this trend, our nation’s schools must support physical education programs.

What is the most staggering statistic related to children's inactivity and obesity levels?

Obesity among youths in this country has risen nearly 200 percent over the last two decades.

Forty percent of all 5- to 8-year-old children already show at least one incidence of heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Seventy six percent of all 5th, 7th and 9th graders tested did not meet the minimum requirement for physical fitness in the state of California.

As many as 92 percent of all children and adolescents with type 2 diabetes are significantly overweight and about 40 percent are clinically obese.

What can parents do to have a positive influence on their children's physical activity?

Parents need to create family time around physical activity. For optimal health and long-term weight management, it has been recently recommended that adults and children should spend a total of at least one hour each day in moderately intense physical activity.

This doesn’t necessarily mean a grueling hour of exercise. It can be achieved through a variety of moderate-intensity activities. Those 60 minutes do not have to be done all at once; several 10- to 15-minute bouts of physical activity performed throughout the day are adequate.

There are few limitations on what types of activities parents and children can do at a moderate intensity. Brisk walking is, perhaps, the most popular choice since it can easily be incorporated into a busy day, has low injury rates, does not require special skills or equipment and can be done by virtually anyone at any age. The bottom line is that parents should choose activities their families enjoy that can be easily incorporated into a daily routine.

What should parents avoid when encouraging an adolescent to become more active?

Parents should avoid the "do as I say but not as I do" syndrome. Kids tend not to understand the importance and joy of fitness if their parents are not positive role models. Children love it when parents are actively involved with them and participating. Always lead by example. If parents are overweight and inactive, then it is likely that their children will be. Overweight inactive parents in 75 percent of the cases produce overweight and inactive kids.

ACE LISTS THE TOP 10 FUN FITNESS ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS

Summer is here and children need to stay active, healthy and busy during their break from school. Parents need to encourage their children to warm up properly and stretch before each activity. They should also teach them never to play through any type of pain or make winning the reason for playing any sport. Let them choose the activity and keep the focus on having fun. To keep kids moving, the American Council on Exercise suggests 10 fun summer fitness activities.

1. Soccer: This highly active game involving both agility and teamwork has grown increasingly popular in the U.S. in recent years. To keep kids injury free, be sure they are geared up in appropriate protective equipment, such as shin guards, prior to every practice and game. Soccer players should also wear shoes with cleats or ribbed soles to prevent slipping.

2. Martial Arts: With a variety of forms to choose from, martial arts are a great way to get kids involved in a sport that involves strength, coordination and mental discipline. Proper training and equipment to prevent injury are a must.

3. Bike Riding: Bicycle riding is a fun activity for the whole family. Experts suggest children ride on sidewalks and paths until they are at least 10 years old, show good riding skills and be able to follow the rules of the road. Helmets, of course, are a necessity for both children and adults.

4. Swimming: Nothing beats splashing around a pool with friends, and swimming offers the benefits of a full-body workout for both young and old. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming lessons for children ages four and up, although classes are available for babies and toddlers as well.

5. Basketball: Whether its a round of HORSE, a game of one-on-one, or a full-court competition, basketball is ideal for developing hand/eye coordination and teamwork. Encourage children under the age of seven to use a smaller foam or rubber ball, and lower the height of the basket if possible.

6. Obstacle Courses: Challenge kids to use a variety of different skills by setting up an obstacle course at the park using playground equipment or other items such as jump ropes, balls and cones.

7. Dancing: Whether your kids like ballet or hip-hop, dancing encourages them to be creative and move their bodies freely. For video arcade fans, an innovative new game challenges opponents to follow a dance routine while watching the video. Kids can spend time learning new moves while also getting a great workout.

8. Board Sports: Whether snowboarding in the winter, surfing in the summer, or skateboarding year-round, kids love to be on the board. Injury risk, however, is higher for these sports. For both snowboarding and skateboarding, kids should wear helmets to prevent head injuries, and surfers or boogie-boarders should always be accompanied by an adult.

9. Jumping Rope: Jumping rope is still a favorite on most playgrounds. Whether alone or in a group, jumping rope challenges both coordination and stamina.

10. Ice-Skating/Inline-Skating: Ice-skating, inline-skating and hockey can be both fun and safe as long as appropriate protective gear such as a helmet, wrist guards and kneepads are worn. Hockey players should wear a helmet with foam lining and a full-face mask, mouth guard, shoulder, knee, elbow and shin pads, as well as gloves.

To find out more information on Operation Fit Kids, go to: www.operationfitkids.org.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE), America’s authority on fitness, is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. As the nation’s "workout watchdog," ACE sponsors university-based exercise science research and testing that targets fitness products and trends. ACE sets standards for fitness professionals and is the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certifying organization. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636 or log onto the ACE Web site at www.aceftiness.org.

Kelli has her Master's Degree in Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Science. She has been in the fitness industry for over 14 years and has owned and operated fitness centers as well as managed and consulted in private and corporate fitness facilities.

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