Because May is Physical Fitness Month, I want to bring attention to some startling figures. Obesity is not just a problem plaguing adults. Younger and younger children are struggling with weight. According to the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System:
- 1 in 3 children will be overweight or obese before their 5th birthday
- A large segment of Minnesota is unhealthy: 16.4% of kids between 2-5 years are overweight
- Nearly 13% of kids 2-5 years are obese (the national Healthy People 2020 target is just 9.6%)
To combat childhood obesity, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), in conjunction with their partners in the Department of Pediatrics, is focusing on younger children as well as family-oriented prevention and knowledge teaching through the Vikings Fitness Playbook program.
Made possible through a grant to Dr. Aaron Kelly (Department of Pediatrics) and myself from the Vikings Children’s Fund, the Vikings Fitness Playbook program—which I wrote about last May—teaches weight management techniques to young children and their parents and is built around a “playbook” model. Throughout the spring, CEHD School of Kinesiology students and a registered dietician meet with the children and their families to explain the importance of healthy lifestyle choices.
What’s New in Spring 2013:
While the goal of the program remains the same as last year—to teach proven strategies to increase physical activity and decrease caloric intake to achieve healthy weight goals—there are many new, exciting aspects I’d like to highlight.
Taking the Program into the Community:
First, we’ve changed our delivery method. Rather than having students come to the U campus, we have now taken the program out into the community. This spring, we’ll be in Eden Prairie—the home of the Minnesota Vikings—using the city’s community resources to teach kids healthy lifestyle habits. We’ll be visiting Eden Prairie’s Community Center so children can become familiar with the resources their own community offers. Our goal is to connect with several communities each year to spread our physical fitness and healthy eating tips.
We’ve also added another day to the program. As before, children will meet with a dietician to discuss their diet and take trips to the grocery store to learn about healthy eating choices. Now we’ve added a second “physical fitness day” to add the message of physical activity along with nutrition. During physical fitness days, children are taught fitness games and activities such as resistance band and strength training, dance, martial arts, yoga and stability classes. For many kids, this is their first time participating in an after-school activity—we hope that children and families will find one or two activities they feel comfortable with to turn into a routine.
How Parents Can Promote a Healthy Lifestyle at Home:
Here are four easy tips for nutrition that can make a big difference in your child’s health:
- Assess the snacks in your home. Throw out the unhealthy snacking options and replace them with ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables to make it easier for children to make good choices.
- Use the Nutritional Info on food packages. Look for better choices that are lower in both calories and fat content.
- Think before you drink juice! Kids love juice, but have you noticed how caloric many juices are? Because there are tons of juice options in the grocery store, choose the brands that are low in calories.
- Yogurt is a great snack for children. Like juice, there are many options to choose from. The best kinds are high in protein (more filling) and low in calories and fat.
In addition to nutrition, encouraging children to be physically active is another important aspect for an overall healthy lifestyle. Kids should get about 60 minutes of physical activity a day. In celebration of Physical Fitness Month, here are four easy tips to keep children active at home:
- Go on walks as a family.
In Minnesota, we’ve been pent up inside our houses throughout the cold winter. Warmer weather offers a great opportunity for families to get outside and explore their neighborhoods again.
- Take a trip to a nearby park to explore trails and play areas.
- Play outside by biking, throwing a ball around or participating in other outside games.
- Encourage your child to be more active throughout the day. Set small goals or challenges like, how many stairs can you climb today?
Aiming to incorporate simple physical activities into your family’s routine while adopting healthy eating choices will help keep your family fit. All involved in the Vikings Fitness Playbook program are excited to meet the new children and their families this spring.
I hope you have a happy Physical Fitness Month!
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