A Healthy Start to 2012: Featuring Expertise from a Pediatric Physical Therapist

With a new year just around the corner, many people are likely reflecting on the past year and thinking ahead to goals and resolutions for the next. One important topic to consider is physical health. What better time to begin a fresh fitness regime for the whole family than the start of a new year?boy eating hamburger

Childhood Weight Statistics:

The rate of obesity has tripled in adolescents in the United States over the last 20 years. 16-25% of children 6 to 19 years of age in the United States are overweight, and 7-19% are obese. Rates are even higher in economically disadvantaged ethnic minority groups. Furthermore, between 70-80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults. Many families have expressed concerns about their children’s weight and physical health and have asked about ways to address these issues. Lucky for them, North Shore Pediatric Therapy is a multidisciplinary team in which therapists from various fields collaborate to provide holistic services for children. To delve deeper into the topic of how to ensure and maintain a healthy lifestyle, I consulted Jesse Coffelt, PT, DPT, of our pediatric physical therapists.

How do you talk to your children about your concerns about their weight in a straightforward, yet sensitive manner?

“Be sensitive, but be an adult.” Jesse suggests a balance between talking to children about their weight and physical fitness in a gentle way, while acting as the head of the household through concrete decision making. One way Jesse suggests talking to children is to check in with them about their perspectives. For example, if your children used to play sports at school but no longer seem to enjoy them, you can say, “I notice you don’t run around as much with your friends as you used to. Why is that?” Jesse explains that most children will answer that they cannot keep up. This, then, is a great entry point to talk to your children about their fitness goals (ex. “Would you like to be able to play on the soccer team this spring?”) and how to get there (ex. “To play on the soccer team, we will have to make some changes so that you feel more confident and prepared. I know you can do it!”).

As a therapist specializing in mental health, I would also suggest anticipating your children’s reactions. All children are different and receive constructive feedback in various ways. If you know that your children will have a challenging time with specific language (ex. “I notice that you’ve gained a few pounds”), think of ways to help your children respond positively so that they will actively participate in a new fitness regime!

How do you know there is an obesity/weight issue?

“The best method to determine whether your children’s height, weight, and body fat are in a healthy range is to calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI). Check out these 2 helpful websites (http://www.bcm.edu/cnrc/bodycomp/bmiz2.html) ( http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/growth/bmi_charts.html?tracking=P_RelatedArticle)  BMI calculators and additional information. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defined overweight as between the 85th to 95th percentile of BMI for age and obese as at or above the 95th percentile of BMI for age.”

 How do you implement a family fitness regime?

  • “Avoid extremes.” Jesse suggests that one simple, yet effective way to implement a new health regime is to reassess the family diet. Cutting out sugary juices and soda in place for water, for example, is a simple way to decrease the number of unhealthy calories and increase the intake of water (health fact: did you know that half of your body weight is the number in ounces of water you should drink per day?). Jesse also warns against extremes (ex. No more desserts forever) and instead recommends healthy alternatives. Click here for a fun, child-friendly, holiday snacking guide!
  • “Have fun with it!” Creating a fitness regime can be fun! Involve the entire family and take family classes at the local gym (ie. Family Zumba is a great option for an energetic dance class open to all ages and levels), spruce up daily walks (ie. Make it a scavenger hunt), engage in friendly competitions (ie. Click here for indoor gross motor activities), and once in awhile, treat your children to creative outings involving physical activity! The president’s challenge is an excellent program and resource with tips and strategies for maintaining a physically active and healthy lifestyle for children and adults!
  • “Don’t get discouraged.” Jesse explains that it takes at least six weeks to increase muscle mass and that you may not recognize changes in body composition. Set goals and keep a log of everyone’s weight so you can really track your success!

Happy 2012! Please share with us your family’s health and fitness goals for the new year!