We are failing our children in a very significant way.
Childhood obesity rates have increased more than four times in children from ages 6 to 11. More than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States are overweight or obese, according to American College of Sports Medicine.
When I hear those statistics, like many mothers, it shocks and saddens me. But talking to a child about weight loss seems almost criminal to me. So how do you deal with the problem?
I lived on sugar, grease and caffeine as a young adult, and had no desire to change my ways until I became pregnant with my oldest daughter. What I couldn't do for myself, I suddenly made a priority because I didn't want her to start out life eating chocolate doughnuts for breakfast. I made a conscious effort to change my eating habits so that she'd start out at a better place than I worked to be at 25. My diet is nothing I'd offer up as a model of success, but it is significantly better and hers is even healthier than mine.
What I didn't realize way back then was that my decision to involve her in sports from the time she was a toddler would make more of a difference in her life than the decision to give up junk food as a meal. That's because exercise is not something she does because she ate too much or gained a few pounds. It's something she does because it's enjoyable. We run because it's fun. It keeps us sane and we meet a lot of interesting and inspiring people.
Because September was National Childhood Obesity Awareness month, I asked my friends and some trainers I know what they suggest to parents who struggle with how to convince children to exercise.
Here are their tips — and my thoughts:
1. Take your kids along for the run.
One of my friends coaches a junior high cross country team and rather than leave her young son at home, she brings him to practice. He may start out playing on his own, but he usually ends up running right along side her — often hoping to beat her. Another friend is a trainer and rather than shoo his son away from his weights and workout equipment, he let's him play along. At 3, he loves push-ups and burpees!
2. Keep it fun.
My mom was the best coach I've ever had — and I've had a lot of coaches. She wasn't the best because she had some secret way of teaching me to hit a fast pitch better than any other coach. She earned her place at the top because I had so much fun learning from her and playing for her that I fell in love with the game. Keep it positive; keep it fun. Teach children to enjoy activities, to love athletics and they'll find themselves working without even realizing it. You have to love the game before you can be good at it.
3. Set a better example.
One of my colleagues watched his father struggle with his weight, and now he is fighting his own weight-loss battle. Instead of going off by himself to grind through a workout, he tries to include his children. One great idea was that he and his son share a "Slurpee Run." They run to a local gas station, have a treat, and then run home. When he gets on the treadmill, his son wants to hop on the elliptical. My oldest daughter saw me running races and began running just so she could be a part of what looked like a good time. Often she is my motivation.
4. It's not just a workout; it's a lifestyle.
Maybe this is the most important tip I was offered. If you have a child who struggles with weight, he or she can't win that battle alone — at least not as a child. The entire family has to commit to making better choices when it comes to activities. Instead of a movie, one of my favorite weekend choices, take your kids on a bike ride. Prepare yourself for the reality that there may be rebellion when you ask them to put down the iPad or turn off the TV. There will be complaining. There will be excuses. There will be frustration.
But there will also be the kind of reward that comes only when we choose the more difficult path. After you deal with 25 mechanical issues and finally hit the road, listen to at least 15 minutes of why your child needs to talk to a friend RIGHT NOW or debate with a teen about why a helmet must be worn when riding a bike, and you will see that you are giving your children a most valuable gift — good health.
And that's worth the fight.
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