by Courtney Feike, MS, ACE-CPT
In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) listed obesity as the number one health risk in America. This problem starts early in childhood with poor choices in diet and physical inactivity and carries into adulthood. In an article by Ebbeling, et al., Childhood Obesity, Common-Sense Cure it is stated, “As with adults, obesity in childhood causes hypertension, dyslipidaemia, chronic inflammation, increased blood clotting tendency, endothelial dysfunction and hyperinsulinaemia. This clustering of cardiovascular disease risk factors, known as the insulin resistance syndrome, has been identified in children as young as five years of age.” Habits, especially those developed early on such as physical inactivity, can often be the hardest to break.
“When compared, US children have around a 17% greater obesity incidence and walk 45% less steps per day than the children in this Amish community.”
The physical environment, along with advances in technology, have become huge barriers to physical activity. Escalators are used instead of stairs, and television remotes allow you to change the channel without moving from your couch. Physical activity in previous decades was a form of entertainment and involved outside sports, which gave children the chance to become more active. Today, television shows and video games have replaced this time. In a study by Bassett, et al, Physical Activity and Body Mass Index of Children in an Old-Order Amish Community, step counts and body mass index were measured within a society that functions similarly to ours prior to technological advances. In this community the use of automobiles and televisions are banned, and children are expected to complete chores on the farm, many of which involve a great deal of physical activity. Results for this study found a 1.4% obesity rate among children in the community. When compared, US children have around a 17% greater obesity incidence and walk 45% less steps per day than the children in this Amish community.
Current guidelines from The Fitness Professionals Handbook, 5th Ed. recommend that children get at least 60 minutes per day of age-appropriate physical activity on most days of the week for health benefits. Aerobic exercise should be emphasized and strength exercises may also be implemented with adult supervision. Strength exercises should use minimal weight and include 1-2 sets of 8-15 repetitions. Physical activity can be implemented a number of ways, through school physical activity programs, sports or even exercise done with a parent like riding a bike. Several programs have been created within schools in order to get kids moving and stop obesity incidence. One program, “The walking school bus,” involves parents and volunteers to collect children from their homes in the morning to walk to school in a group (usually students who reside within a 1 mile radius) in order to gain more time being physically active. Research included in walking school bus studies often show positive results such as lower BMI scores and increases in physical activity.
Several studies show that parental involvement in physical activity will, in turn, increase physical activity levels in children. Unfortunately, a large portion of time between parents and their children is spent in sedentary activities, as one study involving 291 parent/child pairs revealed. During non-school hours the results concluded that an average of 2.4 minutes per day were spent active, while 92.9 minutes per day were spent sedentary. These results suggest that parental involvement in physical activity with children is low, and could be yet another reason that childhood obesity has become so prevalent in our society. Several studies have measured time spent sedentary in comparison with obesity incidence. One trial found a 12% increase in obesity incidence per hour of television watched. This same study also found that obesity risk declined 10% per hour spent in moderate-vigorous physical activities.
The authors of Childhood Obesity, Common-Sense Cure state, “It is hard to envision an environment more effective than ours [in the USA] for producing obesity. We promote energy intake and limit energy expenditure in children, undermining individual efforts to maintain a healthy body weight.” Although many individual attempts for obesity prevention have been made in youth through parental involvement, school and government programs, more help is needed. Instead of watching television with your kids, go outside and teach them a new sport, try to park as far away as you can from the entrance of stores, encourage your children to take the stairs rather than the elevator. These changes, however small, do add up and may be what children need to start living a more active and healthy lifestyle and in turn decrease obesity incidence.
Courtney received her Master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Tennessee in May of 2013, where her studies focused predominantly on physical activity during pregnancy and early childhood years. She has been an American Counsel of Exercise certified group fitness instructor since 2006 and an American Counsel of Exercise certified personal trainer since 2011. She continues to train and teach group exercise at Fort Sanders Health and Fitness Center and has most recently taken on a full-time position as Wellness Coordinator for RehabCare Group in Knoxville.