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Reversing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

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Multiple kids jumping in the air

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Unhealthy kids are growing into unhealthy adults, causing a major health care problem in the United States. More than one third of U.S. adults are obese, and more than two thirds are overweight or obese (about 160 million people). Tyler Cooper, MD, MPH, Cooper Aerobics President and CEO, explains the childhood obesity epidemic and what must be done to reverse it.

Childhood Obesity Causes and Consequences

  1. Decreased P.E. time in school: Recent changes in school policies cut significant time from P.E. and recess to add more time for reading, math and other subjects.
  2. Fast food generation: 49 million Americans eat fast food daily, and 34 percent of American kids eat fast food daily.
  3. Lack of physical activity at home: Only one in three children is physically active every day.
  4. Too much screen time: Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen.
  5. Health problems can start early in overweight children, and physicians have begun to see children with diseases usually only diagnosed in adults. Weight issues can lead to type 2 diabetes, liver disease, asthma, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, foot problems and poor emotional and mental health.

How do these weight issues arise? “Like most things in life, children emulate their parents,” says Dr. Tyler Cooper. “The child won’t adopt a habit the parent won’t participate in, but can latch on to habits, both good and bad, the parent does regularly.”

Fitness Affects Academics

Various studies have linked academic performance to overall health and fitness in children. Data taken from students in California show the following relationships between fitness and academics:

  • Higher levels of fitness = increased math testing scores
  • Higher levels of fitness = increased language arts testing scores
  • Healthier lunches = increased math and language arts testing scores
  • Higher levels of fitness = higher school attendance rate
  • Higher levels of fitness = fewer negative school incidents

It is recommended that students do at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity every day, with more than half occurring during regular school hours and the remaining outside of school. Estimates suggest only about half of U.S. children meet this guideline.

Kid's brain scan sitting and after a 20 minute walk

“At some point, it seems as though physical fitness becomes about being on a team sport, rather than simply ‘playing’ and enjoying physical activity,” says Dr. Tyler Cooper. “Watch out for this. Children should learn to enjoy physical activity at a young age because it can help carry them through to a healthy lifestyle as they get older.”

Recommendations for Healthy Kids

When it comes to introducing children to living a healthy lifestyle and helping to keep them on track, Dr. Tyler Cooper suggests following the 8, 5, 3, 2, 1, 0 recommendations:

  • 8 hours of sleep, minimum
  • 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily
  • 3 servings of low-fat dairy products
  • Less than 2 hours of screen time
  • 1 hour of exercise daily
  • 0 sugary drinks or highly sweetened foods

He also recommends keeping health and fitness at the forefront of family activities. “For me personally, growing up my family went on a run together every Sunday,” he says. “Now, my family’s activities and travel usually surround some form of physical activity, whether it is skiing, hiking or sports.”

Cooper Contributes to Fighting Childhood Obesity

Cooper Aerobics is dedicated to helping people enjoy the highest quality and quantity of life through a focus on fitness, health and wellness, and we start as early as possible. Cooper Fitness Center offers various youth programs ranging from sport-specific training with professionals to summer camps to IGNITE! activity training.

“We’re not trying to help kids to just be better at a sport,” explains Dr. Tyler Cooper. “We’re working to teach kids the importance of being healthy and helping instill habits they can carry into adulthood and be fit for life.”

Additionally, The Cooper Institute developed FitnessGram, the first “student fitness report card,” in an effort to improve school physical education programs and children’s health. It is a health-related youth fitness assessment that utilizes evidence-based standards to measure the level of fitness needed for good overall health. Used globally for more than 30 years, FitnessGram reaches more than 35,000 schools and 10 million students around the world.

"As my father, Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, says, 'It's easier to raise a healthy child than to heal a sick adult.'"

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.