Obesity has reached epidemic proportions not only in the United States, but also throughout the world. The World Health Organization says obesity is increasing rapidly even in very poor countries, especially in urban areas. The epidemic of obesity has reached even the youngest members of society. According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, childhood and adolescent obesity has tripled since 1980, and has doubled among children aged 2-5. Clearly, we need a new approach to nutrition and fitness if we are to stop this devastating epidemic.
Several studies have identified a triad of factors related to childhood obesity: poor nutrition, lack of exercise and television watching. The most common barriers to exercising for children and adults are lack of time, lack of access to exercise facilities and equipment and lack of a safe place to exercise in. At the same time, schools are decreasing physical education and other programs because of lack of funding and safety considerations.
So, what’s the answer? How do we make it possible for younger generations to be active and healthy? How do we remove the barriers to exercise? And how do we motivate children, teens and adults to exercise?
What Can Parents Do?
The most important thing parents can do to encourage their children to exercise is to make it a family affair. Model good lifestyle choices by exercising yourself. Exercise as a family—go for walks, shoot hoops, rollerblade, ride bikes—but do it together.
Parents can limit the amount of time children watch television or other electronic media, like video games. Children should not be sedentary for more than an hour at a time unless they are asleep, and should get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day.
Parents who have time and resources can get involved in community efforts to improve exercise opportunities for children. Encouraging schools to increase physical education opportunities and working to provide safe parks and playgrounds will benefit all the children in a community.
What Can Communities Do?
Communities can increase awareness about the problem of childhood obesity and educate people about its causes and effects. They can develop and implement solutions such as community sports programs. Communities can remove the barriers that keep children and adults from exercising. They can:
• Make sure programs are available at times that are convenient to families and children, including during school holidays.
• Provide exercise facilities that are conveniently located and are available to all community members—especially children.
• Make sure that children have safe places to play and exercise.
Developing a New Exercise Paradigm
Until the last half of the twentieth century, people didn’t have to think about exercise; normal activities provided plenty of exercise for most people. During the last half of the 20th century, exercise became something you had to do in addition to your normal activities. For some people, it became a healthy habit or a discipline. For an awfully lot of people exercise became optional. We need a new exercise paradigm for a new generation. We have to figure out how to make an active lifestyle the new norm and how to integrate that concept into everything we do—work, school, play, home life, religious activities and community life.