Exercise & Childhood Obesity

As the school year winds down and kids look forward to summer vacation, this is the perfect time to focus on exercise and how it can affect childhood obesity.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30 percent of children in the U.S. are obese. This number has more than tripled since 1980, making obesity the most chronic disease of childhood. In 2012, the CDC released the results of a study that showed that the percentage of obese children between the ages of 6 and 11 jumped from 7 percent in 1980 to over 17 percent in 2012. The number of obese children from ages 12 to 19 went from 5 percent in 1980 to over 20 percent in 2012. These children are at a greater risk for serious health problems, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as many types of cancers and bone and joint issues.

Extremely obese children (those at least 100 pounds overweight) have even greater risks according to research done by Dr. Marc Michalsky, an associate professor of clinical surgery and pediatrics at Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus. The researchers looked at 242 children under the age of 19 between 2007 and 2011. The typical child had a body mass index (BMI) of 50. Approximately half of the children had high cholesterol, 95 percent had at least one risk factor for heart disease and 5 percent had four risk factors. Boys (about 25 percent of the participants) also were more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Obesity can also create social and emotional issues. Obese children are often bullied or teased, which can lead to increased anxiety and a loss of self-esteem. This can cause a child to become withdrawn and can lead to depression, which is a serious medical condition.

Physical activity is a crucial part of getting to and maintaining a healthful weight. Exercise burns calories, helps build strong bones and muscles and creates a feeling of well-being caused by the “feel good” hormones released as the body exerts itself.

Most schools have mandatory physical education classes and extra-curricular sports available for children, but during the summer break, it may be more challenging to encourage kids to get enough exercise.

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends 60 minutes of physical activity each day. This does not have to be a structured exercise program; it can be any type of activity. For example, a nature hike or a visit to the local swimming pool are fun activities as well as great exercise. You could also do group activities, like bowling or a family volleyball game. Even a game of tag counts as exercise.

It is important to establish exercise habits in childhood as this increases the odds of maintaining a healthful weight throughout a lifetime. Active children are more likely to become active adults, and taking time to help your children build good habits now will help them become and stay fit and healthy as adults.

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