Childhood Obesity and Physical Activity

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Most children and teens have access to a tablet, smartphone, television, laptop or a video console. They are sitting around on-screen time more and more as the days go by. Research from the CDC states obesity has nearly doubled since the 1970s in the United States. It is estimated now that 20 percent of children and adolescents are affected by obesity. Too much screen time, the accessibility to the internet and not enough physical activity are the biggest reasons the obesity rates have increased.

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Children are considered obese if they are in the 80th percentile on a healthy weight for his or her age and height among other children the same age and height. There are many repercussions to being overweight, which most will affect the heart. Listed below are a few of the health risk from the CDC.

High Blood Pressure

Type 2 Diabetes

Breathing problems (asthma, sleep apnea)

Joint problems

Fatty Liver Disease

Anxiety and depression

Low self-esteem

We can combat these risks with exercise. There are many benefits from physical activity, such has stronger muscles, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, better sleep and leaner bodies. Dr. Stephanie Walsh, a pediatrician and medical director of child wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said, “The benefits of exercise really affects every part of your body and your brain.” That’s why exercise is most important in the fight against childhood obesity.

Most adults think exercise must come from expensive gym memberships or running outside for miles and miles. However, for kids exercise equals playtime. If they are in school, they have gym class and recess outside where they can get active. Running around the playground playing tag with their friends is a great way to get physical.

There are three aspects to fitness; aerobic, strength and flexibility. Aerobic activity strengthens the heart and lungs. You may also hear this type of exercise called cardio because during aerobic exercise your heart rate increases. Aerobic exercises improve the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to its muscles because you are breathing harder and faster. Examples of aerobics are jogging, swimming, skating, tennis or basketball.

Strength training does not mean weight lifting. It is the use of resistance to induce muscular tightness. Strength training exercises tone and build stronger muscles. You do not have to use weights to get resistance, gravity is a great and natural resistance for us to use. Kids can perform push-ups, squats, pull-ups or just going across the monkey bars on the playground. All of these will strengthen their muscles and bones.

Stretching exercises help improve their flexibility and posture. Stretching increases your range of motion in your joints and muscles which will help enhance their performance in physical activities. Yoga is an excellent exercise for stretching. However, you do not have to attend a yoga class to get some stretching in. Kids stretch when they reach down to tie their shoe or when they reach for a toy on the top shelf. Many girls will practice their cartwheels or splits on the playground. All of these are fantastic ways to add flexibility to their bodies.

The CDC recommends that children and teens get one hour of exercise each day. This can be completed all at one time or broken up in shorter segments. Three days per week should be spent strength training. Aerobic or endurance training should also be completed 3 days per week. This may sound like a lot, but it is most important that we reverse the obesity rates. The recommended daily hour of physical activity can be split between each element of fitness. You can spend 20 minutes running to get your cardio, 20 minutes strength training with your body weight and lastly 20 minutes stretching the muscles and joints you just used to get all the aspects of fitness.

Exercise is not just good for your body. Recently there has been a link with physical exercise and mental health. Lead researcher, Dr. Mark Tremblay from Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, says the potential is especially great for kids with attention disorders, like ADHD. “Regular exercise can help a child in school be more creative, produce stronger brain function and improve social skills” said Dr. Tremblay. His research also shows that exercise can increase the attention span and improve memory. Which are great benefits for all children. Sharpening their minds can improve their grades.

Exercise is most important key to battling childhood obesity. The benefits are more than just physical. Regular exercise builds a strong heart and lungs, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, leaner bodies, helps with depression and anxiety, improves sleep and improve the mind. We can win this battle by creating healthy lifestyles and adding fitness into our daily routines.

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Childhood Obesity and physical activity. (2019, Aug 25). Retrieved from