Over the past few decades, an increasing percentage of young children and teenagers are becoming overweight and falling into the obese category. Many times, this comes with the diagnosis of diabetes and other health concerns. The challenge begins as to how to properly manage childhood fitness, and what goals parents should try to achieve to help in the process.
At Camp Shohola, a boy’s summer camp in Greeley, Pennsylvania, campers are encouraged to take part in various outdoor activities and experiences, many times stepping outside their comfort levels. These physical challenges help keep children active and provide a fun, safe space for children to learn and grow while staying fit. Camp Shohola says there are many things parents and caregivers can do at home to help improve their children’s fitness levels and help avoid obesity.
According to the CDC, since 1970, the percentage of childhood and adolescent obesity has more than tripled, and now accounts for almost 20% of the childhood population, and nearly 40% of those aged 16-19.
There are multiple factors, but two of the main ones are the decrease in the nutritional value of the food children are eating, with highly processed and fast foods being very popular, and also a decrease in the level of activity and exercise children are taking part in. This can be attributed to an increase in technology and screen time, with more and more children staying indoors after school to watch tv, play video games, and play on their tablets.
As obesity rates rise, the incidence and prevalence of diabetes mellitus type II also increase at an alarming rate. A total of almost 10% of the U.S. population is living with diabetes mellitus, with a large population being undiagnosed, including many children.
Diabetes in childhood can be due to either type I or type II: either the destruction of the cells responsible for making insulin or insulin resistance, respectively. In obese children, it is almost always due to insulin resistance that occurs due to increased amounts of fat deposition. It can be reversed with weight loss and proper nutrition and diet.
When parents think about fitness, they generally think about structured exercise or organized sports, and while both of those are also important, free play is when children get the most benefit. Younger children, when allowed to play on their own and with their peers, are able to burn a significant number of calories, while also learning many motor skills. Riding a bike, playing tag, and throwing around a ball helps to get kids on their feet and active.
Parents should keep small games and sports equipment around to help facilitate and encourage children to play. Outdoor activities like camping and hiking are also encouraged as it also helps with physical endurance. At Camp Shohola, boys take part in various activities that help promote outdoor education and physical activity. Another aspect of free play can be daily chores that children help out with around the house, helping teach responsibility, while helping keep them active at the same time.
Children see and learn from what their parents do, and parents must set a good example for them. One way of improving childhood fitness is taking part in similar activities on a daily or weekly basis. This can be in the form of a quick neighborhood walk after dinner every day, doing stretches or yoga together, or for older children, going to the gym together.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children can begin joining their parents at the gym for lightweight lifting training around the age of 10-12. This allows for properly structured exercise, calorie-burning, and also helps them form healthy habits that will carry forward into their adolescent and adult years.
A popular method of getting children active is enrolling them in organized sports throughout the year, such as soccer, volleyball, hockey, and baseball. For many children, this amount of activity is enough as they have multiple games and practices weekly, and many also choose to practice on their own at home with siblings or friends. Children should be encouraged to take part in sports they are interested in, which will help them stay motivated and involved.
For many families, financial situations, unfortunately, pose a barrier to these sorts of activities. In such cases, families can look into government or privately funded scholarships or funding to allow their children to take part. Camp Shohola has a scholarship fund set up through a nonprofit corporation to allow boys that want to attend camps but may not financially be able to. Organized sports also help improve fitness by giving children more self-esteem and encouraging them to be out of the house and active more often.
The Bottom Line, According to Camp Shohola
As evidenced by various studies, obesity and diabetes among children are on the rise. The only way to combat this is by encouraging physical activity among America’s youth. By encouraging health and fitness to children at an early age, parents and guardians can instill the importance of physical activity, which can carry on with children as they mature into teenagers and adults, says Camp Shohola. In turn, this may be able to reduce cases of obesity and diabetes overall.