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
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?
Childrens 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 nations schools must support physical
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 doesnt 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
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
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
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
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.
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),
Americas 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 nations
"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 worlds 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
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.