Fair Catch

Exploring life lessons children can take away from sports.

Motivating Sedentary Youth

"Physical activity is integral in prevention."

There has been much discussion in the past few years about the increasing problem of obesity among youth. Obesity is defined by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary as "having an accumulation of fat," but medical professionals often quantify that by saying that women with over 25-30% body fat and men with over 20-25% body fat are obese. Currently about 20% of America's youth are considered obese.

Obesity occurs when the intake of calories is greater than those expended in daily activity. The two important things to consider when working to prevent or treat obesity are food intake and physical activity. Parents, guardians, and school officials need to take the initiative in making wiser food choices, whether it be in planning weekly meals or school lunch menus. Unfortunately, children from families in poverty are especially at-risk for besity. Because fresh fruits and vegetables are often expensive, low-income families typically can be limited to eating inexpensive, highly produced foods. Many of these food options are high in fat and calories, while also being low in nutritional value. These children also are often on a school meal plan for breakfast and lunch, and the lack of quality nutrition in school lunches is a widespread problem.

Prevention of childhood obesity is key, and physical activity is integral in prevention. It is important that physical activity be seen as something fun and not considered a chore, and it is even better if parents can find time to share the activity with their child. Below I've outlined some tips to help end sedentary behavior and promote healthy eating among children.

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  • Discover their interests. Is your child interested in sports? Encourage them to play with friends, on a school team, or if possible with a local recreation organization. This is more engaging than watching a sport on television. Do they like biking, animals, or the outdoors? Find an activity that suits their interests.
  • Involve them in preparing dinner. Have them cut vegetables, help gather ingredients, join in trips to the grocery store, etc. Explain what you're preparing. Going the extra mile and discovering the benefits of key ingredients and telling your children about that could also reap many benefits.
  • If your home is within walking distance to your child's school, encourage older youth to walk or bike to school. If you are able, accompany them on the way to and from school, or set up a group of kids to walk together.
  •  Consider enrolling your youth in an after-school program. There are many non-profit after-school programs available for youth at low or no cost. These programs, while encouraging activity, also reduce inactivity in the afternoons, when many students are watching television, or playing on the computer or with video games.
  • For those youth who are very much into video games, consider purchasing the interactive games that actually promote physical activity, such as Dance Dance Revolution or some of the Wii games.

As with adults, any time new physical activity is introduced into a lifestyle, it is important to have a physician's examination first. What other ideas do you have for encouraging youth to be active and healthy?

Steven Ungerleider, Ph.D., is an expert on sports, performance enhancement drugs and fair play.

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