Let me drop some shocking stats on you:
- 1 out of every 3 children is overweight or obese 1
- Only 1 in 3 children are physically active every day 2
- The typical 12-year old today weighs 11.7 pounds more than in 1973
- For the first time in U.S. history, this generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents
Today many schools are not able to provide the level of physical activity that is recommended for their students for multiple reasons. Physical activity is seen as optional, or extra-curricular, activity rather than an investment. Only 6 states require physical education in every grade. It is the position of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) that all elementary school children should be provided with at least one daily period of recess of at least 20 minutes in length. In fact only 20% of school districts require daily recess.
It seems obvious that it’s time to step up to the plate, as adults, and be accountable to our youth. Being a champion for childhood fitness is an urgent priority to break the cycles of physical inactivity. Focusing on children before the age of 10 could change the trajectory for the next generation.
Children should receive 1 hour of activity a day, as suggested by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. It’s a realistic goal especially given that children are natural born movers—their bodies crave it! Pepper in activity throughout the day and you’ll reach 60 minutes in no time!
Here’re are some tips on how to create positive and active experiences:
Keep it fun: If your child is not enjoying an activity, try something new. Have patience as it may take some trial and error to find the right fit. Non-competitive activities like yoga or hiking could be just the right fit for your child.
Get involved: Kids love it when parents support and watch their sport activities. Kids will respond even more if you participate! Get into the action and insert yourself into an organized sport they’re involved versus being a spectator. It can be formal like coaching or informal like shooting hoops at a nearby court.
Change the everyday: Walk to destinations, take the stairs instead of the elevator, bike to school … however you normally transport, switch it up. A small change in an everyday occurrence can have an impact.
Limit screen time: Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media. Screen time is a very sedentary activity, so limit it to 1 hour a day to make time for other activities. And make it a house rule that play dates do not include screens.
Schedule it: Set aside time for outdoor play whether it’s sledding in the winter or swimming in the summer. Consider one day each weekend to be out and active. Even schedule it financially—create a budget to encourage the investment.
Redecorate: Does your living room encourage movement and play or does it beckon you to lounge in front of the TV / gaming console? Creating space for movement can be a subtle shift in the household to encourage more physical activity.
Whatever you do, just be an active role model. Our nation’s youth is depending on our leadership. Please accept this as a call to action to show children what their bodies are cable of doing and help reverse the inactivity epidemic.
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. http://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf.
2National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The Fitness Equation: Physical Activity + Balanced Diet = Fit Kids. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1999.