January 23, 2004
Are you sprouting a spud? Therapist suggests ways to prevent your child from becoming a tater tot
By Lauren Fairburn
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Researchers say it is no mystery why one third of children in the United States are obese and some 60 percent of overweight children between 5 and 10 years of age have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
Cathy Henderson, a physical therapist at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, says that eating fast food and sugar-filled snacks, along with an increase in sedentary activities, is putting children at risk of heart disease, diabetes and the propensity to become overweight adults.
“Physical education classes have declined in schools over the last ten years and more children are watching television now than ever,” Henderson said.
Henderson says parents can help propel their children into a healthier adulthood by encouraging physical activity at an early age.
“Children decide whether or not they enjoy physical activity at a relatively young age,” Henderson said. “Fundamental motor skills and basic movement patterns are beginning to develop and physical activity helps improve motor coordination that lasts forever.”
She says that implementing daily physical activity during early childhood will help establish good exercise habits and challenge motor coordination.
While many adults refer to exercise as a workout or feeling the burn, Henderson said children can develop positive attitudes about physical activity if parents make it fun, diverse and a part of the family’s weekly routine.
“Limiting television time, videos, computer games and Internet time will allow for more spontaneous physical activity,” Henderson said. “Be creative and encourage indoor games like Twister, which gets them moving and promotes flexibility.”
She also recommends that parents exercise with their children to set good examples and show them how much fun it can be.
“Parents have the most influence over a child’s eating and exercising habits, good and bad,” Henderson said. “Be proactive and make sure physical activity is a part of your child’s daily routine at school.”
It’s also a good idea to plan vacations around physical activity. “Plan a family ski trip or go hiking together,” Henderson said. “If you’re on a cruise, encourage the kids to go swimming. At Disney World, walk to the attractions rather than taking the shuttle.”
Henderson said the reward will be more than just improvements in your children’s physical well-being. “Many children see an improvement in self esteem, mental health and academic performance,” she said. “Their attention span and energy level also can be increased when they stay physically active.”
Tips for increasing physical activity:
- Walk or ride a bike to school or to a friend’s house.
- Take your children to the park or swimming pool on sunny days.
- Get involved in exercising with your children. Play tag, Simon Says, chase and other sports.
- Go for walks with the family after dinner instead of watching TV.
- Encourage participation in sports at school and in the community.
- Encourage physical activity by giving special equipment like a bat, ball or Frisbee.