Muévelo: How to Combat Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the Latino community, and, according to a recent study conducted by Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, inactive parents are largely responsible for their kids’ excess weight. Even First Lady Michelle Obama is telling us we need our kids to get a move on, so it’s time to shut off the television and get yourself and your children out and about. We asked Betsy Keller, professor of exercise and sport sciences at Ithaca College, for tips on how to rev up the physical activity in your household, and here’s what she had to say:

What is a normal level of physical activity for a child?

It’s tough to quantify but kids should be spending most of their time moving around. Kids these days spend over seven and a half hours in front of a screen.

How should parents choose their children’s extracurricular activities?

Whatever they do, it should be fun and physically active. The kid should derive enjoyment from it. It should be something that requires them to move their whole body. If the parents participate, the kids are more likely to do it. They can walk the dog together or play soccer in the park with them. If they do it habitually it becomes a habit, just like brushing your teeth. Young kids have fun making up their own games, so don’t put too many rules on them.

What are some great activities?

Engage in volunteer activities with your kids that require physical activity. Clean up a park, or plant a garden and take care of it on a regular basis. Or go to the ASPCA and see if you can take dogs waiting for homes for a walk. If you have a farm nearby, have them help out there. Kids appreciate being engaged and having a responsibility, especially if you role model it for them on how to carry it through.

Why is role modeling important?

Role modeling is very important. If you think of other behaviors involved in a kid’s life, so much of what they do is learned from what they see.

Aside from the physical, how can exercise stimulate a child?

There is some evidence that it helps them focus better when they’re moving their body routinely.

Can you give us some other tips to set children on a good path?

Ultimately parents are the grownups and they have to make the right decision. Limit their screen time—TV, computer, cell phone—to two hours a day.