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Have fun to combat obesity by Greg Small

We all have a duty of care for our children, to ensure we give them the best possible opportunities to lead healthy, productive lives. Greg Small, Operations Manager at the Register of Exercise Professionals, explains how.

To prevent a future epidemic of adults with increasing weight-related health problems, we must tackle the problem where it starts – in early childhood. Shocking data from the recent Millennium Cohort Study reported that half of all UK seven-year-olds are not getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Our children must be encouraged to be more active, which means showing them how much fun they can have away from sedentary pursuits such as watching television or YouTube, chatting with friends on Facebook, or playing electronic games.

The past decade has seen a fourfold increase in the number of children and teenagers admitted to hospital with obesity-related conditions. Researchers at Imperial College London looked at NHS statistics for children and young people aged five to 19 where obesity was recorded in the diagnosis. In 2009 there were 3,806 children admitted to hospital for obesity-related conditions, compared with 872 in 2000.

Parents can be proactive in encouraging their children to be involved in fun, ‘real life’ activities, thus establishing a life-long pattern of fitness and health. To help them do this, parents can call on the help of REPs professionals – individuals who are trained to the required standard to help children tackle obesity. REPs is the Register of Exercise Professionals, and is owned and operated by SkillsActive. The Register is available online and lists all those who have the correct expertise in exercise.

For instance, REPs Level 4 professionals help consumers find professionals trained to the required standards in obesity and diabetes management, and who have the necessary skills representing current best clinical practice.

Parents must be more involved in boosting early enthusiasm and excitement for healthy activities. This can include activities the whole family can enjoy together, such as going for a fun bike ride, planning a day-trail hike, perhaps with a healthy packed lunch, or going for a family swim at the local sports centre. Running, swimming and playground activities are also all great exercises for young children – all activities that children can do with parental encouragement.

More mainstream sports, such as football and tennis, are also great exercise options, and can teach children the value of team spirit and confidence, which they will learn while having fun doing the activity.

It’s important that parents receive guidance on activities that children can enjoy, while also learning the correct exercise habits. When children are enjoying physical activities, they see it more as fun than a formal routine. In turn, this leads them to establish a healthy habit, which will develop into adult daily routines of physical activity.

The Millennium Cohort Study, published in BMJ Open, also found the percentage of girls achieving the recommended levels of daily exercise was only 38%, compared to boys’ level of participation of 63%. The 6,497 participants were seven-year-old to eight-year-old children. Fortunately, there’s also a REPs category for physical Activity for Children specifically designed for under 16s. The REPs Level 2 category includes a qualification for those working with young people.

There are immense health and economic implications of obesity-related conditions, especially when they start in childhood. We know that significantly reducing sedentary time among young children means they will maintain a safe, healthy physical weight, and life-long health.

By working together, both parents and professionals can ensure that children regard physical activity as something that is normal and fun, which they will naturally want to enjoy doing every day. By doing so, we can each play our important part in making sure that fun, happy childhood play develops into routines of physical exercise, and healthy, fit and active adult lives.

Top Tips

Getting your kids to exercise can be a challenge, so here our some tips to get them up and moving!

  • Ensure that they have fun! Children have most fun when they are surrounded by people willing to be active with them. Come up with new and exciting challenges that will maintain their attention, and keep them active.
  • Keep a good schedule! Exercise is great, but the last thing you want to do is burn your child out. Ensure that you come up with a good schedule, and don’t overdo the exercise. It’s also essential that children stay regularly hydrated.
  • Follow your own advice! Kids lead by example, so make sure to give them a good one.

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