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With one in three American children now overweight, how do you keep your kids from joining the heavy ranks? Gold's Gym provides you with an expert plan for children of all ages.
When First Lady Michelle Obama chose to focus on the fight against childhood obesity, she pointed a spotlight on an alarming and growing problem. "Over the past three decades childhood obesity rates in America have tripled," according to a statement by the First Lady's "Let's Move!" initiative. "If we don't solve this problem, one-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives." In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers stated that due to obesity-related conditions like diabetes and heart disease the current generation of youth could have a shorter life expectancy than their parents—for the first time in American history.
There's a simple reason: Technology has made us less active while food portions have as much as quintupled. Most children spend up to seven hours a day, at the computer or TV. In fact, only a third of them get in enough aerobic activity (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 60 minutes per day) and many schools are cutting back on physical education programs.
So how can you encourage your kids to keep active—and make sure that they grow up instead of out? We asked Len Saunders, an American Heart Association spokesperson on childhood obesity and the creator of Project Aces, a yearly event where school children worldwide exercise simultaneously.
First, he advises, bear in mind that as a parent, you hold the key. "You're the role model," he says, "and if your children see you living an unhealthy lifestyle, they are going to mimic that." So make sure that your family places a high priority on healthy eating and regular exercise.
"Second," he says, "try not to use television as a babysitter too often." You don't want your child to make a habit of plopping down on the couch—the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests setting a two-hour limit on screen time—and a recent study showed that children who are continually exposed to food advertisements down 45% more snacks. Saunders realizes that most parents have busy schedules that make it hard to entertain their kids and get through their to-do list—"I went for a jog at eleven last night," he admits—but getting your kids to be more active is easier than you think. "You just need to be creative," he says.
Here are surefire ways to get kids of any age off the couch:
Activate Your Toddler
• Put the chicken dance or macarena on YouTube and ask them to join in.
Power Up Your Primary School Age Child
• Have them help you with housework. "Most kids this age actually want to vacuum; they think it's fun," says Saunders.
Motivate Your Tween
• Encourage your kids to join teams at school. "Physical activity at this age really helps grow self-esteem," he says. If your children initially struggle at sports, flip on your cheerleader switch and get them to keep trying. "When kids fail early at sports, many go into a cocoon and reach for technology even more," Saunders observes.
Train Your Teenager
• Supervise them closely. Make sure they know the proper way to use the machines and free weights, and check their form.