Physical activity is widely recognized as an important component in treating and preventing obesity in children. This is, of course, in addition to sensible eating habits and – where necessary – diet modifications. Even medication that addresses obesity should not be viewed as a weight reducing cure-all apart from physical activity.
The School Reform News has observed that a decline in physical activity almost inevitably equates to an increase in obesity. Since the percentage of obese children and teenagers have doubled during the past two decades in conjunction with a marked de-emphasis on physical education in schools, Jenni Gaster Sopko of the National Parent Teacher’s Association urged that local PTA chapters should give serious consideration to reviving the old physical education classes that provide children with time to be active, sweat, and that help associate such activity with fun.
Sopko also noted that an increased childhood dependence on high-tech games and gadgets has led to more sedentary lifestyles, and this needs to change. Video games, TV shows, and other forms of passive entertainment can be very appealing to a child who is already overweight. This only adds to the challenge in motivating obese children to engage in physical activities.
Burdette and Whitaker, authors of Resurrecting Free Play In Young Children, have also recognized fundamental changes in how children tend to play stationary games today as contrasted from historical physical activities. Since children – much like adults – generally view exercise in a gym as dull and monotonous, they should be encouraged to become involved in enjoyable physical activities that hold their attention.
Baseball and soccer, for example, are certainly not for everyone. However tennis, dodge ball, swimming, biking, dance, or hiking might appeal to others. The key is to try something and determine interest level in the midst of the activity rather than sitting on the sideline and dismissing options without engaging at some minimal level.
Dr. Dan Copper of the University of California maintains that children need around 40 to 50 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily physical activity to realize an optimal benefit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 60 minutes divided up throughout the 24-hour period.
For example, of the total 60 minutes in physical activity, 20 minutes might include jogging in the morning, another 20 minutes of gym class in school and then finally the last 20 minutes playing baseball before dinner. The options are as endless as the imagination.
To help initially motivate inactive children, some of their otherwise normal TV or video game time could be offered in exchange for a comparable amount of physical activity. Eventually, instead of staring at the TV or computer screen, obese children may actually find greater enjoyment participating in a sport with friends who have a similar fun interest.
However it is important to start. As a parent, don’t allow an initial resistance from your obese child dissuade you from persisting. Work together to find an activity that he or she enjoys, and participate together where appropriate.