Childhood and adolescent obesity is a growing concern worldwide. The number of overweight and obese children in the UK has doubled in the last two decades, with one in five 15 year olds classed as obese. In 2006, a UK study (National Centre for Social Research) identified that 18.9% of boys and 17.8% of girls aged between 2 and 15 years were classified as obese. In addition to this the same study highlighted that a further 13.7% of boys and 16.3% of girls were overweight. This quantified to 2.3 million obese children in the UK, at the time. Worryingly for the UK, such statistics reveal our children are some of the unhealthiest in Europe.
So how can fitness professionals help? It is proven that very few children put on weight because of an underlying medical problem, but actually put on weight because their lifestyle sees a lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet. Personal Training and Fitness professionals have the potential to be at the forefront to assist in improving this epidemic, by educating parents and helping children be more active. So the main questions are, what are the causes of childhood obesity in the UK and what can we, as fitness professionals, do to help?
The biggest rise in overweight and obesity statistics is amongst the under 11’s. Between 1995 and 2003 the prevalence of obesity in children aged two to ten increased from 9.9% to 13.7%. The data collected showed that around 11% of children were obese before reaching school age.
The 11-15 age group has also seen an increase in the number of overweight and obese children. Between 1995 and 2003 the number of obese and/or overweight boys went from 14% to 24% and in the same time frame girls increased from 15% to 26%.
Research suggests that childhood obesity statistics vary across the UK, based on region and socio-economic status. Findings suggest that children living within households with the lowest income were at a greater risk of obesity that children from households with higher levels of income.
Children living in Yorkshire and Humberside and the South East of England have the lowest risk of obesity. Obesity is more prevalent for those who live in the North East and London. Finally, obesity is higher amongst children and adolescents who live in inner city areas that those living in any other area.
Causes of childhood obesity
As mentioned earlier, children are rarely obese or overweight due to medical problems. In fact research suggests that children are more likely to be obese if their parents are overweight or obese. Evidence is still unclear though as to whether this is down to genetics, the fact that families tend to follow the same eating and activity habits, or a combination of the two.
It is thought that children put on weight because of their lifestyle, including diet and activity levels. Children can consume excess calories very easily nowadays with fast food and cheap calorie laded produce aimed at them. A lack of parental guidance and knowledge exacerbates this issue further. In addition to this working parents have less time to spend on food preparation and meal times in general, often opting for calorie rich fast foods and ready meals.
Couple the unhealthy diet with low activity levels and the reason for a rise in obesity levels becomes clearer. Less children walk to school or ‘play out’ in a social context. The Government recommends minimum of 2 x 30 PE sessions per week in schools, but this is not compulsory. To add to this there are number of children who have suffered with negative experiences when taking part in PE activities at school, which unfortunately puts them off throughout adolescence and sometimes into adulthood.
What can you do to help?
Below are a few tips on how you as fitness professionals can help reduce the obesity levels or at least help towards reducing the rise and prevalence of the epidemic.
- Get qualified in kids fitness. There is a Level 2 Certificate in Teaching Physical Activity to Children (Under 5’s and 5-11 year olds) which would enhance your current knowledge to include an understanding of the physiological and psychological implications of children and teenagers exercising. This would not only add to your repertoire of services but could even be your USP.
- Have the desire to help. Research this extensive area and see for yourself how the industry you work in can help make a difference to the future of not only the UK population but world population. Be enthusiastic to the cause, add statistics and special offers to your website. Get your local community interested and ensure your local market understand the implications of childhood obesity and the positive impact you can have on the local community and the future of our children.
- Set up a child/teenage physical activity classes. Then use your knowledge and passion for fitness and health and spread this mind-set through our up and coming generation. Of course emphasis should be on endurance-based resistance exercises using relatively low weight, but remember these sessions are for children so plan them with this in mind. To ensure adherence make the sessions fun, lively and sociable. Prepare and deliver fun classes to suit all. So do not aim for sports specific sessions, with individual competition, but aim for group/team activities such as tag, hide and seek and musical bumps. You could even add a dance element for older, female classes. Consider a team rewards system to include – stickers, badges, certificates, trophies or medals rather than one winner, ensure everyone’s efforts are recognised. This with your enthusiasm and encouragement will ensure children continue to come to sessions and results are seen.
- Advertising is very important. Do focus some attention to the consequences of childhood obesity and the issues that can arise if these are ignored such as:
- Increase in type II diabetes
- Sleep apnoea in teenage years
- Increased risk of cancers in later life (breast and colon)
- Juvenile hypertension
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
What you also need to focus on though is how your services can reduce the likelihood of children developing these conditions. Ensure your advertising will make parents and children aware of the benefits of activity, not only physically but psychologically as well.
- Finally, consider adding the option of group and/or family packages to your products and services. Such a package will help ensure that every member of the family can benefit from your expertise at an affordable price. In addition to this such packages encourage family time, doing something healthy and active. Not only will you be helping the local community but such products and services will ensure your competitive edge on other PT’s and local clubs and leisure centres.