In the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 12 million children ages 2 through 19 years are considered obese. If you’re staring at that statistic and saying, “Wow! That seems like a lot,” – it is. Although the number of obese preschoolers (ages 2 through 5 years) has significantly decreased in the past few years, the rates for other age groups haven’t seen the same decline. The CDC notes that during 2011-2012, 8.4 percent of children ages 2- through 5-years were obese. In comparison, more than 17 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 11 were obese. That number inches up to 20.5 percent for the 12- through 19-year teenage grouping.
With millions of obese children in America, what can be done to stop this serious health problem? There isn’t one easy approach. Every child is different, making it challenging to give a definitive answer. That said, a combination of nutritious eating and activity can lead to a healthier lifestyle for kids of all ages. How do sports fit into the mix? Athletics provide children with the chance to break a sedentary cycle, get away from the TV/computer/iPad/iPod/other screen and get active.
Given that sports help fight childhood obesity, it would seem obvious that anyone who works with kids would promote athletic activities. Or is it? According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, only six states require physical education for students in kindergarten through grade 12. With a growing trend towards academics over athletics, if you think your child is getting his fill of sports at school, you’re probably wrong. Where does that leave you and your child when it comes to exercise and activity? You have to rely on after-school, extra-curricular, or community-based sports to offer kids the chance to get up, get active and fight the causes of obesity.
Using sports as a way to combat weight gain and build a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean that your child needs to be a top-tier competitor. The key in fighting obesity is to get your child active, and not push him to ‘win, win, win’. Emphasizing winning and competition over the actual physical activity may put your child off and make him shy away from physical fitness even more, especially if he is shy or not exactly a natural athlete. Instead of pushing him to win, you should encourage sports as a fun activity. The idea here is to make sure that your child is active. If he’s not enjoying himself, he won’t have an incentive to get up and move.
What can you do to use sports as an obesity-fighting activity?
- Make sure that your child chooses athletics that require actual activity. Standing around on the sidelines cheering on his team doesn’t count towards his daily activity requirement. Picks such as swimming, track, soccer, or gymnastics are examples of active sports.
- Let your child choose. Forcing him into football when he would rather wrestle isn’t going to help your child enjoy what he’s doing. Give him plenty of options and don’t settle on just one at a young age. There’s nothing wrong with swapping soccer for volleyball when the season’s over.
- Don’t let your child quit. Switching one sport for another after the season’s done isn’t the same as giving up entirely. It’s normal to feel frustrated when a sport is new. Be a cheerleader, and praise your child’s efforts.
- Work out at home. If your child is anxious that he won’t be able to keep up with the other kids, start slowly at home (this counts as exercise too). Race around the backyard or organize a soccer game with his siblings.
Keep in mind, the focus needs to be on getting and keeping your child healthy. If he’s already obese or has a related medical condition, always consult a doctor before starting any sports program. Let the coach know what your child’s goals are and if there are any special medical considerations to take.