What You Can Do To Help Fight Childhood Obesity

I need for you to know the shocking statistics that face children today. Not to make your jaw drop. But I do want to bring about some awareness of the issues children face and how we, as adults owe it to them to guide them through such troubling times. The mental disorder with the highest mortality rate isn't depression. Nor is it schizophrenia. It's eating disorders. Up to 20 percent of those with eating disorders cave in to their illness.

More than 90 percent of those who develop bulimia or anorexia, or some combination of the two, are young women in their teens and 20s. The sad part is that most develop the disorder in adolescence (ages 13-19). American colleges report that all three disorders are growing on campus, oppressing up to 40 percent of students at some point during the student years.

At any one time, about 2 to 3 percent of adolescents have bulimia, and 0.5 to 1 percent of adolescents have anorexia. According to child psychiatrists, 13 percent of high school girls purge.

Eating disorders have doubled in incidence since the 1960s, and increasingly they are striking in younger age groups. They also increasingly occur in diverse ethnic and sociocultural groups.

I'm starting to see weight issues arise at a younger and younger age. I'm sure you know that self-esteem issues go hand in hand with having weight related issues. Studies show that girls as young as 5 are affected by how others perceive them.

When children start to experience weight gain parents often restrict the child's food choices because they are trying to "help" them in their weight loss efforts. I understand the premise behind it. But what ends up happening to the child as a result is quite sad. They start learning to place labels on foods. They will repeat what is being taught at home. Since they have restricted nutritional choices they will start to label foods as "healthy" and "unhealthy". Sure, you would think that is a good thing, right? But what happens when that child grows up and then binges on that food choice that was labeled "unhealthy" all there life. Can't this behavior be avoided by parents being more inclusive rather than exclusive? Would it be beneficial to teach children what portion control is?

There's much information in the media about childhood obesity. Parents should spend more time finding ways for their kids to be more active, what a portion size is, how to include more nutritiously dense food and enjoy the more refined options in moderation. This behavior wold be more beneficial for children in the long term.

Teach Your Child Healthy Perspectives

I do not have children of my own so I'm going to speak from the scope of my own experiences and what I have observed over my years in the fitness industry.

If we do not help shape young kids perspective when it comes to athletics, health and fitness then we are doing them disservice. The ability of your children to have a healthy perspective begins at home. In order for them to grow up with healthy relationships with food, and view exercise as a benefit rather than a chore then they need to have a firm grounding in feeling loved, secure, and competent. They need to know what positive self-esteem looks like.

With social media being in their face all the time it is very important for kids to feel comfortable in their own skin. If children feel valued for who they are they are more likely to approach sports, health and fitness with confidence and commitment.

Ultimately you want them to be free from doubt, worry, or fear. If not then they will grow up comparing themselves to others, suffer with low self-confidence and negative self-image issues.

Another important part of self-esteem is the ownership they feel toward their sport interest.

My father was 10 times the athlete I was. I didn't get a full scholarship to a division I school, he did. I didn't play in the NFL, he did. The coolest part about my upbringing was that he supported, guided and coached me to be the best me. He wasn't concerned about me imitating him and his accomplishments. He wasn't concerned about living through me either. If children are driven to succeed by their own passion, motivation, and determination rather pressure from their parents, they will see their sports participation as a challenge to pursue instead of a threat to avoid.

Unfortunately, many young athletes do not see their sports participation as a part of their lives. It is their life. So whenever they walk onto the field of play, they are putting their lives on the line. That's scary. That sort of outlook will inevitably lead to failure, disappointment, and shame.

My sophomore year in high school I was the starting quarterback of my high school team. We lost every single game which resulted in a 0-11 season. My father showed me the same love no matter what. He taught me how to digest losing, respect the craft, and how to grab small positive nuggets from each experience. He made sure I knew my value wasn’t tied to a sports record or stats sheet.

If I am ever fortunate enough to have children of my own my goal would be to help them see that their sport should be a healthy part of their self-esteem. They will still be loved and valued no matter the result.

If children have the right perspective they will have a more positive emotional response to exercise, sports and their overall health. Instead of frustration, anger, and fear dominating their lives, positive emotions such as excitement, joy, pride, and inspiration will propel them toward their goals.

This healthy perspective will also help them react constructively to the inevitable obstacles and setbacks that they will experience as they pursue their health, fitness, and sports goals.

We have to do a better job at raising our youth.

But that starts with how we approach our own health and fitness. 

Resistance Training For Children

Should you let your kid lift weights? I guarantee you have heard of all the potential 'dangers' related to this right?  

However, there has never been any scientific evidence that youth weight training is harmful to the normal growth and development process. Your child can in fact perform barbell squats without fear of stunted growth!

Weight training is not even listed in the top 10 most prevalent injuries for children. According to some of the most updated statistics from Stanford Children's Health the highest rates of injury occur in sports that involve contact and collisions. Youth football, basketball, baseball and softball, and soccer rank as some of the highest injury prone sports for youth sports. More than 775,000 children, ages 14 and younger, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year. Most of the injuries occurred as a result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion. Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals. More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year. Guess what? Resistance training isn’t in the list at all. This is often attributed to good coaching and qualified supervision.

Resistance training for kids is extremely beneficial and safe. I believe that the sooner your child has a barbell in their hand the better. Especially with the issues of self-confidence climbing and child obesity rates rising. Why not give them something that teaches discipline, and boost a positive self-image? 

My father put weights in my hand at a young age. Around the age of 8 I started to train with him in the garage. We had a bench press that was duck taped so it wouldn’t fall apart and a squat rack. It was one of the best gifts he ever gave me. I can't thank him enough for introducing me to resistance training because it taught me so many valuable lessons.

Here are the reasons why I believe your child should be in a resistance training program. 

Shape a Positive Self-Image

The most significant basic developmental task for children is developing self-worth. If they don't master self-worth, they become self-absorbed instead of self-aware. Confidence makes social life a lot smoother. It also makes it a lot safer. Studies show that self-confidence is one of the single best shields against bullying. A child’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation is important. This is known as self-efficacy. If it isn’t built up then they may have less confidence in their ability to stand up for themselves.

Yes, I understand, your child might be the confident kid. They may even be the superstar. But kids who aren't socially awkward suffer silently from a distorted body image that's probably a lot worse. The social pressure for them to be the best or the prettiest could leave him or her constantly hungry for some internal fulfillment they can't define. 

Weightlifting, however, can give adolescents a say in their physical destiny and appearance. With a resistance training program they play an integral role in developing self-worth. The ownership, investment, and discipline it takes to accomplish that change in physical appearance can often help build the other parts of the self-worth equation as well.

Create an Environment for a Healthier Kid and Strong Family Bonds

Lifting makes kids health and food conscious. Food takes on a whole new dimension when you lift. It becomes fuel, and sustenance. It becomes purposeful, and that purpose is building and maintaining muscle, daily energy, and recovery. They will also learn balance. Kids should know how to enjoy some of their favorite sugar filled foods but not at the expense of pushing aside nutritiously dense foods. 

It's easy to bond with kids during infancy. But most parents aren't as good in maintaining these bonds when kids get older and presumably more complex. My father and I bonded during our weight training sessions. It was something I looked forward to. Weightlifting gives you something to share and a way to acknowledge your kid's effort and achievements, along with their weaknesses. They will learn life isn’t about wins, losses, or participation awards. They will learn that you get out what you put in.

If you are a parent of a young child and considering a weight-training program, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is your child mature enough to accept coaching instructions?
2. Does the training program emphasize lifting technique and not the amount of weight lifted
3. Is there a qualified coach to supervise my child?
4. Does the coach understand how to monitor the training program and vary the intensity of lifting to avoid over-training and injuries?

If you can answer yes to all of these questions, a weight-training program can be implemented with your child regardless of age.

Weight training is safe for children of all ages to perform as long as they are adequately supervised and coached. Consult the child’s primary physician before starting any new physical training program. (I have to say that but science is science)