ACCORDING TO THE Center for Disease control (CDC), 17% of American children are “obese,” which is defined as 12.5 million children with a body mass index that exceeds the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
The CDC cites a few food related reasons for an increase in childhood obesity. Foods with high sugar and fat content are more available, heavily advertised and served in greater portions than before. They are even served more often at schools and child care centers.
It is easy to call this a nutritional problem when soda is sold at school, potato chips are cheaper than potatoes and 2.3% of Americans (2.4 million people) live in “food deserts,” areas where fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy are less available because a grocery store is more than a mile away and/or consumers do not have access to a vehicle. That number increases to 3.8% in low-income areas, and 7.8% in rural and low-income areas.
It’s not all junk food’s fault though; children also need more exercise. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children get 60 minutes of exercise a day–which is longer than any gym class I’ve ever taken–and a 2009 study by the CDC found that only 33% of high schoolers went to physical education.
I often hear people complain that one of the reasons that children are increasingly obese is that parents don’t let their kids “run free” anymore, but the CDC states that 50% of US children do not have a park, community center or even a sidewalk in their neighborhood. Really? A sidewalk?
If kids don’t have safe places to play outside, they will need help from their parents to stay active.
And since I’m not a parent, I polled my best mom and dad friends on the most fun forms of exercise they get with their children.
Here are a few ideas on how to stay fit with your kids this summer.
Try swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding or, for the more adrenaline-seeking kids, surfing.
Sports with wheels
Bike, skateboard, or rollerblade around your neighborhood or park.
Visit a water park, theme park or zoo, a place where there is a lot of ground to cover and with some educational activities after a long day of walking.
Gymnastics, dance, karate or even fencing classes are offered at community centers and YMCAs all over the country for various age groups.
Bringing children in a baby bjorn or stroller, or having them walk next to you, in a 5K race (or a longer race for older kids) is an easy way to spend a morning teaching kids about fitness. If the event is being run for a charity, then it’s also a nice introduction to philanthropic causes.
The great outdoors
Get outside and go for a hike, climb a tree or take the family camping, bird watching or rock climbing (which can also be done indoors when the weather isn’t great).
Make work play
I love work when it feels like fun. Let your kids help with the yardwork and gardening, run in the sprinklers, or wash the car together. The important thing is to stay active and to help the next generation learn from a young age how fun it is to be healthy.