Last year, Statistics Canada announced that 16% of Canadian adults are medically obese and another 32% are overweight. Bigger parents means bigger children, and now a staggering 26% of Canadian kids are overweight. If you’ve ever been teased (yes, you… shoved in a locker? called names? picked last for kickball?) you know that being perceived as different can be emotional torture for a child. An overweight kid might as well have giant neon arrows surrounding her. But what about the physical consequences of childhood overweight and obesity?
Heavy kids are at risk for most of the same complications as heavy adults: depression, sleep problems, asthma, headaches, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, chronic infections, fatty liver disease, gallstones, constipation, acid reflux, joint pain, fractures and a generally decreased quality of life. Not the future you envisioned for your little one?
The good news is that simple lifestyle changes like increasing physical activity and improving family nutrition habits have a big impact on little bodies. A recent study showed that overweight children can lose several pounds just by exercising 20 minutes per day. Easier said than done, you say? Well, the gestappo you are not. If you want to change your kids’ attitudes toward exercise you must understand what’s stopping them from being active in the first place. A 2003 study determined the top five perceived barriers to exercise among overweight and obese children. Below are the top 5 reasons that overweight kids, especially girls, feel they can’t be active and five strategies to break down these barriers and get your kids moving:
Top 5 Perceived Barriers to Exercise… and Solutions for Parents
1. Barrier: too much homework and not enough time for physical activity. Moms & Dads can: suggest short bursts of exercise as homework breaks and build exercise into the daily schedule by encouraging biking or walking to school and activities, if possible.
2. Barrier: Self conscious about looks and when doing physical activity. Moms & Dads can: shift language to emphasize strength, health and fitness instead of appearance, and choose activities that encourage performance but don’t focus on how to make bodies look better.
3. Barrier: No one with whom to exercise. Moms & Dads can: schedule family activities on weekends and evenings, and find age-appropriate group activity programs (perhaps not school-based if your child is being ridiculed or left out or feels self-conscious with classmates).
4. Barrier: Feel too overweight to do physical activity. Moms & Dads can: show kids that work and play activities such as walking the dog, cleaning, frisbee and dancing are all activities of which they are capable and which can help improve their health and fitness.
5. Barrier: Chosen last for teams. Moms & Dads can: introduce kids to individual sports or sports that are less focused on skill level such as biking, jogging and cross-country skiing. Encourage strength training to help build coordination and focus; strength training may also help build self-esteem as overweight children are often quite strong.
Children are meant to be active. In a gentle way, teach your children that exercise is not an option. Daily activity is as mandatory as daily teeth brushing and exercise, in its absence, is a powerful threat to your child’s health, now and as an adult. Understanding your child’s attitudes about her body and about exercise can start a conversation between you that will allow you to strategize and come up with solutions to get the whole family a lot healthier and happier.Dara Duff-Bergeron is a veteran fitness trainer and a mommy of one with one on the way. After a decade of fitness training, consulting and writing, Dara now combines her exceptional experience and down-to-earth philosophy in Fit Family personal training and Belly Bootcamp pre-and post-natal fitness. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.