Too much fast food and too little exercise have contributed to an increase in the number of overweight and obese children. According to the CDC, the problem is an energy imbalance.
The body needs a certain amount of energy (calories) from food to keep up the basic life functions. Body weight tends to remain the same when the calories eaten equal the number of calories the body uses or "burns." Over time, when people eat and drink more calories than they burn, the energy balance tips toward weight gain, overweight and obesity.
Fitness expert Carey Long of Baton Rouge said this energy imbalance has dire consequences for today's youth.
"Today's preteens are expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents," he said. "That is disturbing, yet not unsurprising given that 75 percent of Americans are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that 1 in 5 children aged 5 to 17 is carrying excess body weight."
Long, author of "Real Life Fitness" and Director of Training for Spectrum Fitness Southdown's, would like to see physical education classes put an emphasis on exercise that promotes healthy lifestyles for kids.
"The exercise incorporated in some schools pits more athletic students against less athletic schoolmates," he said. "Competition between students is emphasized which can result in a lifetime of feeling inadequate for students with less natural athleticism. In my opinion, fitness, self-esteem and school productivity would increase naturally if exercising while in school was not specific to individual sports, but instead was on educating students on how to exercise properly. It would allow each student to improve at his or her own pace and focus on each person's strengths without it becoming a competition against other students."
He said this type of approach empowers people to take responsibility for their own fitness. Long said overweight people, often stigmatized, can develop a victim mentality.
"Many people I meet dealing who are with obesity or weight issues don't see it as something they have chosen to live with, but instead see themselves as victims," he said.
What is the recommended amount of exercise for children?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. Although they stressed this doesn't have to be 60 minutes of continuous activity. For example, if an 8-year-old played soccer for 20 minutes during PE at school and then played baseball after school with friends, this would meet the AAP's recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity for the day.
Long said today's children tend to be preoccupied with inactive pastimes and few do enough resistance exercise to develop strong musculoskeletal systems.
"In my book 'Real Life Fitness' I am a fan of trying to do something every day of the week," he said. "Our bodies were designed to move, not sit around. We function better when we move more."
Page 2 of 3 - Long said a combination of strength training and aerobic training is best for people of all ages.
"There is extensive research that cardiovascular training and strength training combined provide an effective approach at combating obesity in children and adults," he said.
He added other benefits include improving self-esteem, increasing work productivity and increasing longevity.
Long is concerned that children today don't get the total daily requirement of physical activity they need.
"An area that I pay attention to is the increased demand on students as it applies to homework responsibilities compared to when I was young," he said. "When I was young, afternoons were spent running around the neighborhood getting exercise, learning how to socialize and simply being active after being cooped up inside for eight hours. Now-a-days it's a 30-minute break and then back to the grind to prepare for the next series of standardized tests."
After school activities
To keep her children physically fit, school teacher Jill Espinoza of Gonzales takes 8-year-old Natalie and 10-year-old Brandon to martial arts classes after school.
"Both my husband and I were overweight as children," she said. "We didn't want them to struggle with the same issues we've had to deal with growing up."
She said overweight children are often teased by their peers, which can lead to social issues like bullying. That's one of the reason's she prefers martial arts training as an after school activity for her children.
"My husband and I both had some martial arts training when we were younger," she said. "We felt strongly that in addition to the strength and conditioning they would get from martial arts training, they would also learn discipline and how to stand up for themselves so they would not be bullied."
She said as a teacher, it was important to find an instructor that understood psychological and social issues that children face today. That's why Espinoza chose Black Dragon Martial Arts in Prairieville.
"When my husband went through a job change, the kids' lives were disrupted, but Mr. Ken and Mrs. Kristine were so supportive and really helped the kids through it," she said. "They understand that many things affect children's moods and this affects their ability or inability to do certain things at certain times."
Amy Pickholtz admitted she's "pretty unusual" in her approach to health and physical fitness when it comes to raising her 7-year-old son, Shane Reuben-McEvoy.
"I have a few like-minded friends with children, but I'm definitely not in the mainstream when it comes to raising my child," she said.
Pickholtz, a yoga instructor and owner of Eight Chakras Yoga in Prairieville, goes by the yoga name of Har Inderjeet Kaur and hasn't eaten meat, except for a little seafood, since 1984.
Page 3 of 3 - "Shane has never eaten meat or poultry," she said. "He's eaten all organic foods for his entire life."
In addition to eating nutritionally dense food, her son gets plenty of physical activity from sports like baseball and swimming, playing on the playground, riding a bike, physical education classes at school and formal exercise training in martial arts two days a week.
Pickholtz said her 18-year-old daughter Rebekah Reuben was also physically active as a child, playing soccer and volleyball in school, and studying martial arts.
"My daughter has been a black belt in kuksoolwon since she was 13," she said.
Pickholtz, who teaches yoga to children as part of an after school enrichment program at Southeast Middle School in Baton Rouge, said many of the children she sees in the program lack basic coordination, balance, endurance and stamina. She said regular exercise such as yoga helps to restore good health and well-being.
"They are lacking in endurance and stamina because they are not used to physically exerting themselves," she said.
Pickholtz added regular exercise such as yoga helps to restore good health and well-being.
"Yoga helps them to develop body awareness and it quiets their minds," she said. "Just recently one of my students had a breakthrough and told me, 'I feel so good, so calm and connected.'"