Childhood obesity is a growing problem in America. In his book, Dr. Rob's Guide to Raising Fit Kids: A Family-Centered Approach to Achieving Optimal Health, author, doctor, and dad Robert Gotlin talks about how you can make sure your kids stay active and create health habits that will stay with them the rest of their lives. He spoke with Nell Minow, Beliefnet's Movie Mom blogger.
Do kids today get less exercise than their parents did? Why?
If I told you kids are playing more sports than their parents did yet they are in worse shape and exercising less, you may look at me as if I have two heads. The truth is, kids are participating in more sport-hours than their parents did, however, the majority of the time spent, playing "team" sports, and is anything but a true "exercise workout." Just see for yourself. Go and watch a Little league baseball practice...a lot of "standing around" out there. When our parents had free time, it wasn't standing around and watching on a Little League practice field, rather, it was a trip to the park for a day of playing ALL sports with their friends, and there was not a coach anywhere to be found. The day was all about constant motion. What are the biggest impediments kids and parents face that make it harder to adopt a healthy lifestyle?
Kids are faced with too many options. There's the recreational basketball program, then there's the CYO league, the travel program, the AAU. There are time management issues where everyday can be filled with another team practice, school work suffers, overuse injuries occur, and let's not forget pressure from mom and/or dad, reminding everyone in an ear's distance that "their" little six year old indeed is the next Derek Jeter. The pressures facing these young athletes can be overwhelming.
And couple this with many families who nowadays, have two working parents...possibly one parent with two or three different jobs. The family "together-time' suffers. And when family time suffers, so does the healthy lifestyle concept suffer.
Should all kids play some kind of sport? What are the factors to consider in selecting the right sport for a child?
Every child need NOT play a sport. Every child needs to be physically active and every child needs to be placed in a situation where he/she can succeed. "Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds success." When a child engages in an activity he/she cannot succeed in, the simple solution is to move on and try something else. Many sports or physical activities offer different benefits, whether it is the martial arts for the hyperactive child or football for the overweight child. And for the child who simply is not an athlete, the "back to the future" mentality works best; a family walk, a game of tag, or simply a day in the park will do fine. One of the key points to consider is whether your child fits best into the TEAM or INDIVIDUAL sport model. This decision needs to be an "unbiased" one and not driven by mom or dad's own preference.
What do parents need to know to make their communications with coaches and PE teachers most effective?
Communication, communication, communication...I can't emphasize this enough. Parents should be proactive in assuring the environment for their child is safe and secure. Parents, on the other hand, should not attend a child's basketball practice to offer their on the court expert opinion. That's why there is a coach.
The more experienced and more qualified coaches will deliver an outline of their coaching philosophies, expectations, and demands early in the process. This affords the opportunity for Q&A and can eliminate conflict down the road. Offering constructive advice almost always assures mom or dad a seat near the bench. This may be accomplished by organizing a team fund raiser, offering to assist with transportation, or merely letting the coach know you are available if he/she should require assistance with any operational issues.
We can tell kids almost anything to help them minimize and recover from injury. Unfortunately, they only hear a fraction of that which we've told them. The most important preventative is to eliminate "horse-play." In most, if not all, published studies on youth sports injuries, horse-play is the #1 culprit. Rules must be set and kids must understand the implications if the rules are broken.
How do particular foods help or impede optimal athletic performance?
The best advice a clinician, author, or educator can give with reference to food choice is to "eat a well-balanced" diet. Children rarely need to "be on a diet." Children simply need to eat a well-balanced diet. It is fairly common knowledge that consumption of excessive "sugary" foods can lead to hyperactivity and obesity, an epidemic effecting 50% of today's younger population.
What are the most important ways to encourage kids to participate in sports?
We really cannot "encourage" a child to participate in a any particular sport, unless there is a desire to do so on their part. This is why it is critical for parents and care-givers to select opportunities for the child for which he/she not only likes, but one in which they have a realistic chance to achieve success at. Understanding that sometimes one never knows the ability a child has at a given sport until he/she tries, the experience must always be viewed in a "positive" manner as the ultimate decision for participation will be the child's.
What are the most common questions parents have about fitness for kids?
Interestingly, for many questions parents ask, they already know the answer. When a parent asks whether their child can return to play even though the ankle sprain is still causing a limp, their lead line is almost always, "it's only a minor sprain, he should be ready to play today, don't you think?"
Some of the other facts are:
Yes, children as young as seven or eight can weight-train so long as there is adult supervision.
Your child needs to drink approximately 2/3 glass of fluid for every one hour they engage in strenuous physical activity.
Yes, children DO need to stretch. Their growing bones tend to increase stress on the supportive ligaments so stretching is essential for a child, more so than for an adult.
What can parents do to encourage schools to promote fitness for kids?
Parents MUST get involved. Join the PTA, sit on committees, and volunteer to assist. Many schools are academically loaded and unfortunately, this has limited physical education classes to almost "none" in many regions. This is not acceptable. Study after study support greater academic success achieved in children who are more physically active and who exercise regularly. Parents must pressure the local school boards to maintain the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sports recommendation for physical activity in young children to occur on "most" days of the week for at least 30-45 minutes/day.
How can kids with learning or physical disabilities get the most from fitness programs?
Learning disabilities should in no way alter or adversely influence a child's potential for achieving optimal physical fitness. Programs simply need to be structured so that the "challenged" child is afforded an opportunity to achieve success.