Would it surprise you to know that one out of three kids is now considered overweight or obese in the United States? Much of what we eat is quick and easy, from fat-laden fast food to microwave and prepackaged meals. Nowadays, most everyone is so over scheduled that there is little time to prepare healthier meals or to squeeze in some exercise. Portion sizes, in the home and out, have become much larger. Plus, more than ever, life is sedentary; kids spend more time playing with electronic devices, from computers to handheld video game systems, than actively playing outside.
Watching too much television is one of the most obvious reasons for of lack of exercise. Kids younger than 6 spend an average of 2 hours a day in front of a television screen. Older kids and teens spend almost 4 hours a day watching TV or videos. When computer use and video games are included, time spent in front of a screen increases to over 5 hours a day. Kids who watch more than 4 hours a day usually have a higher chance of being overweight compared with kids who watch 2 hours or less.
The worst part of all is that during their youth, overweight children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes) than are other children and adolescents. Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80% of children who were overweight at 10-15 years of age were obese adults at age 25. Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight as children. The latter study also found that if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood has a higher tendency to be severe and morbid.
Tips for parents to encourage healthy lifestyles in children:
Set a positive example by leading an active lifestyle yourself, and make physical activity part of your family’s daily routine such as designating time for family walks or playing active games together. Provide opportunities for children to be active by playing with them. Give them active toys and equipment, and take them to places where they can be active. Offer positive reinforcement for the physical activities in which your child participates and appropriately push them to continually try new activities. Make physical activity fun. Fun activities can be anything the child enjoys, either structured or non-structured. They may range from team sports, individual sports, and/or recreational activities such as walking, running, skating, bicycling, swimming, playground activities, and free-time play. Ensure that the activity is age appropriate and, to ensure safety, provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads, and knee pads. Locate places such as parks and ball fields that make it easy to play outside. Monitor and lower the amount of time your children view the television or play video games to no more than two hours per day.
Encouraging your children to play outside in your own backyard is made easier by having equipment such as swing sets, play gyms, and outdoor playhouses. All of these types of play equipment encourage both exercise and the use of your children’s imagination. Outdoor playhouses allow many hours fun play for kids while promoting exercise and healthy habits all at the same time. It is not necessary to spend a large amount of money on a new tree house or fancy club house when many existing backyard playsets can be easily converted to include a vinyl playhouse by simply having a vinyl enclosure custom made. Even on a rainy day, a custom outdoor vinyl playhouse can become a secret fort, a dollhouse, or a ship at sea.
Healthy Youth! Physical Activity, CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health