In the span of 10 years, 1990 to 2000, the percentage of belly fat in 18 year-old-girls increased 130 percent. For boys between two and five years and girls between six and 11 years of age, there was an 80 percent increase. The average increase across the youth age range was over 60 percent (Pediatrics, November 2006).
It is no surprise that this increase correlates with a significant decrease in the activity levels and healthy eating in children. Further, it is not a surprise that key culprits cited in this situation are television, video games, and the computer screen. What is surprising is how adults overlook the significant role they have played in creating a generation of inactive children with poor eating habits.
Let's face it. We are a society of convenience, or perhaps more accurately, inconvenience. It is inconvenient to walk to the mall, so we conveniently ride. It is inconvenient to cook a meal, so we opt for the convenience of fast food. A daily fitness activity is inconvenient so we conveniently make excuses. And when inactivity and poor diet inconvenience our health and lives, we conveniently blame it on heredity or the environment.
When it comes to fitness and healthy eating, children are simply doing what they have been taught and permitted to do. Adults tell children to eat more fruits and vegetables, yet the typical adult eats only two each day.
Adults criticize children for watching too much television and drinking too much soda, yet adults think nothing of sitting in front of the television and eating junk food and drinking alcohol. Is it realistic to assume that children do not notice these things?
The drop?off in youth fitness levels should not be a surprise to anyone. This is what society has nurtured over the past three decades. Over that time period, the concept of physical fitness was replaced with the concept of physical activity; in other words, being physically active meant being physically fit. Society essentially passed along the message that a person could be healthy with less effort. As proven by today's statistics, that message has not worked.
Numerous studies have shown there are significant differences in health benefits between fitness and activity. Those studies found that while sedentary individuals benefitted from physical activity, more significant health impacts occurred when physical activity focused on increasing physical fitness levels.
It is readily apparent that something must be done. If children's activity levels and eating habits are to change, then adults must change. Youth fitness cannot be viewed as an activity, but rather, must be viewed as a lifestyle. And to be effective, the entire family has to be an active part of that lifestyle.
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Michael Mroczek is the first person in Canada, and the second person in the world, to earn the prestigious Level III Youth Fitness Specialist from the International Youth Conditioning Association, the premier international authority with respect to Youth Fitness & Youth Sports Training.