This time of the year we’re all pondering those New Year’s resolutions, especially the ones that focus on losing weight and getting fit. And newspapers are likely offering you tips on the same.
So this year, while fitness is the theme, we thought we’d aim our focus on the kids. This is about kids’ fitness and what we as adults can do to help them.
Although the Center for Disease Control says obesity rates in children seem to be stabilizing, about 15 percent are ranked as obese. Couple that with overweight children and about one-third of American kids fall into one of those categories.
That means our kids need better nutrition and more exercise. And that means they need it at home and at school.
Schools everywhere are struggling with the question of good nutrition in the cafeteria. In this area, school districts such as Elizabeth City Pasquotank County have made changes to the menus in an effort to provide a more nutritional approach to meals. But what about exercise?
Once upon a time kids used to get 10 minutes of recess in the morning, 30 minutes at lunch and 10 minutes in the afternoon. These days things have changed, but the focus is on the minimum requirement for kids to get their heart rates up and expel a little energy, according to the school district’s assistant superintendent Frank Heath.
Heath explains that a few years back the state passed the Healthy Youth Act, which essentially required that elementary kids get no less than 150 minutes of exercise time a week, and no one could take that time away as punishment.
Heath says most people took that to mean that there would be 30 minutes of recess a day. But it’s not that straight forward.
Activities within that 150 minutes a week include physical education once a week and while recess and free play are fine, if a teacher wants to keep the kids indoors due to weather, they can have periods of vigorous exercise during the day, such as jumping jacks or running in place.
“The data shows that the best thing is to have 20-plus minutes to have your heart at an elevated rate,” says Heath.
The activity also allows kids to burn
off energy and that helps them focus in the classroom, he adds.
“It’s not just good for your health and body, but it is also good for your academics and for your mind,” says Heath.
But 30 minutes a day isn’t enough for active kids. When kids get out of school, experts have agreed the last thing they need is to go home and plop down in front of the television.
Certainly sending kids outside to play is an option for some, but there are families who don’t have that luxury due to work schedules. That’s where after school programs such as those found at the YMCA come into play.
Jamie Koch is the senior membership director at the Albemarle Family YMCA. She says the Y has after school programs that provide transportation, homework help and perhaps most importantly, physical activity.
The Y also provides a needed service designed to help kids, and families, get back on track physically, Y Change for Kids.
“It is a lifestyle program,” says Koch.
Kids meet with a fitness coach who will talk about nutrition, portion sizes and help them workout three times a week. There is also a Y Change Family program if the children don’t want to go it alone.
“We have a great success rate,” she says.
Of course all of these Y programs are great, but what if you’re having trouble with money these days? Koch says they have Open Doors, a program that helps them provide Y services to those individuals and families that are having financial difficulty.
“Apply for membership and you can apply for Open Doors,” says Koch. “There’s a sliding scale based on the number of family members and income.”
Of course all of the programs in school or at places like the Y won’t do much good unless they’re backed up by efforts at home. One of the most important efforts a family can make is to ensure good nutrition.
Junk food is prevalent in many diets these days and recent polls show that Americans aren’t ready to give up their Whoppers and Big Macs. So what is needed, says Albemarle Health Cardiac Dietician John Lamberson, is a change of philosophy at home.
“One of the things that has become pretty evident, it’s not really the kids that are having problems, a lot of times it’s what the parents are providing,” says Lamberson.
If the parents are providing a lot of junk food, the kids grow up with it and it’s the norm for them as adults. Changing the diet then starts with mom and dad.
“It’s not too expensive to eat healthy,” says Lamberson. “You have to have the skill to prepare meals with whole foods. Preparing a meal from fresh ingredients, we lose those skills because we’re in a hurry.”
As for snacking, parents need to begin to turn to healthy alternatives there, too. Lamberson points out that nature provides us with “great fast foods.” Fruits and vegetables are healthy, and affordable snacks.
While a candy bar might cost more than $1, a navel orange is currently priced at little more than 50 cents apiece. Bananas are right around 57 cents a pound.
“We need a culture of change where we become more reliant on ourselves,” says Lamberson.