Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘exercise

Why youth sports isn’t reducing child obesity

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I’m part of Generation X, which is followed by Generation Y, which is, naturally, followed by Generation Z, of which my 8-year-old son is spokesman. Apparently, though, a better term for young people — heck, most Americans of any age — these days is Generation Fatass. And youth sports apparently isn’t doing much of anything to make our children less corpulent, less adipose, less… .(Hold on, let me find my thesaurus.) Not that it should be expected to, when there are much bigger, pardon the pun, reasons for obesity than youth sports could ever handle.

Baby, you put the “roll” in “b-roll.”

You might have caught news earlier in the week about a study in the journal Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine that explained why youth sports wasn’t doing anything to help matters. A sample of coverage, from McClatchy Newspapers:

Parents who sign their kids up for youth sports leagues need to know: That’s not enough to ensure youngsters get the physical activity necessary for good health.

A study released [Dec. 6] indicates youth sports practices often don’t provide the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. And since most youth sports involve only one or two practices each week, kids need to be active on those other days, too.

“Some parents sign their child up for a youth sports program and then check off that box,” said Russ Pate of the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. “The typical youth sports program is not going to meet the physical activity requirements.” …

In some cases, the teams’ practices were limited to an hour or less on the field. But even longer practices often didn’t meet the activity requirements. The study found players were moderately or vigorously active 46.1 percent of the practice time.

Various coverage has remarked on how parents expecting organized youth sports to make their children less oleaginous (found that thesaurus) should THINK AGAIN, BABY! But parents don’t sign their kids up for organized sports so their children can stay fit, not when a two-hour softball games of mostly standing around is following by a team snack of chips and juice-ish. They do it so they can get college scholarships!

Actually, the study and a companion piece note that organized sports are, say, better than THOSE GODDAMN VIDEO GAMES YOU PLAY ALL DAY (another reason parents sign their kids up for sports). But the study authors recommend, at a minimum, more vigorous practices.

That will work as well at combating obesity as reducing taxes on the rich will in turning around the American economy. Fat cats getting fat paychecks actually have a lot more to do with our fat selves having fat children than anything youth sports can or can’t do. Not to get all political, but I’m going to get all political.

Numerous studies have found direct links between income inequality and obesity rates, as in the higher the former, the larger the latter. This is true in any country in the world. Numerous studies also have found that higher poverty rates (which are often concomitant with income inequality) also mean higher obesity rates. That rank communist Ben Bernanke says that income inequality is worse in the United States now that it’s ever been, and that’s a very bad thing:

The gap between rich and poor in this country has never been greater than now. In fact, we have the biggest income disparity gap of any industrialized country in the world. The highest income 20 percent of Americans received almost half (49.6%) of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent received by those below the poverty line. At the top, the richest five percent of Americans — those who earn more than $180,000 — had their annual incomes increase last year, census data show. However, families at the $50,000 median level saw their incomes drop. Although the changes in each direction are small annually, cumulatively they add up to greater disparity over time and that is what has happened.

Don’t feel like you’re the only villain, America. Other countries are letting their poor children languish, too.

Youth sports cannot make up for a culture in which the top earners get a lot, and everybody else gets crumbs. Unfortunately, in America, exercise and free time (and decent, nutritious food) are luxuries. Even if you’re working a lot, and especially if you’re not making much for it, opportunities to move are few, for you and your children. With schools cutting back over the years on physical education and sports, opportunities for children to have free or inexpensive organized play and sports activity are dwindling, making a bad situation worse by making sports and organized play even more inaccessible to those without means.

Sure, there are people who’ve made lousy choices, and we can all be more conscious of what our children eat, and their opportunities for play, which doesn’t have to be organized all the time.  But there has to be a societal commitment to giving children opportunities in sports that don’t involve travel teams and thousands of dollars most families don’t have to spare, and the first opportunity is to have an economy that doesn’t have a few winners, and a lot of people on the margins.

You can make youth sports practices two hours of hardcore exercise, but until we as a nation aren’t willing to feed our children to the porcine (still have that thesaurus handy) appetites of the wealthiest Americans, that’s just wasted work, as far as solving the problem of childhood obesity is concerned.

Parents overestimate child fitness levels, guv'nor

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Anamarie Regino

Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

Blimey! British mums and dads are blinkered into thinking their little yobs are running about when their lazy little gits really never push their nubby fingers away from the bangers and mash.

Oh, sorry about the faux Cockney. Let me rephrase it in American: British parents believe their children are exercising more than they actually are, thus putting them at greater risk of obesity. From the Beeb, er, the BBC:

Parents have big misconceptions about the amount of exercise their children take part in, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

It says 71% of parents polled believe their children are “active enough,” but only one in 10 of the children say they are doing the recommended daily amount [activity for at least 60 minutes per day]. …

The BHF questioned nearly 1,000 UK parents with children aged eight to 15. … It produced a report called Couch Kids which shows that while the number of obese children has risen since the mid-1990s, there have been no major changes in children’s physical activity levels over the past decade. …

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “Mums and dads need to take the blinkers off about how active kids need to be in order to keep their hearts healthy.”

Hey, Dr. Knapton, get a period and speak in a language we all can understand!

[youtubevid id=”WXfs87baS4U”]

Jarvis Cocker also is extremely upset about the rising obesity rate in Britain.

Parents worldwide are pretty good at overestimating how healthy their little darlings are, figuring they’re Hercules when they’re more of a Klump. For example, a 2008 U.S. study found that parents of children with type 2 diabetes (the kind you’re at risk to get if you’re overweight) underestimated their child’s weight. (So did the child.)

Parents’ recognition of their child’s exercise activity and weight is like people’s opinions of Congress versus those of their own Congressmen: everyone else is bad, but my child is just fine. It doesn’t help, at least in the United States, that physical education in schools over the years has been a casualty of cuts for budgetary and academic reasons, but you could name thousands of other, legitimate societal reasons for obesity and the need for greater activity for children.

But it looks like the place to start is for parents to be the first ones to encourage more activity, whether through organized sports or no, rather than less, and to tell kids to get their arse outside. Bloody hell, I just can’t stay away from the British slang.

Wii Fit is God

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I’m not on the Nintendo payroll, and whatever deity you may or may not worship knows that the company isn’t throwing me any cabbage so I can hype its products on a site that so far has gotten seven unique visitors. (But, Nintendo, I’m a hopeless whore, so feel free to contact me with any offer!)

Still, I can’t stop from raving about Wii Fit, to the point where people on my train wish I would do something less annoying, like sniffle loudly as I have a long conversation on my cellphone regarding butt warts.

It’s a beautifully simple product. You use a remote and a balance board (which looks like a cheap bathroom scale) to perform numerous exercises and games (yes, games) to improve your fitness. There’s yoga, strength training, aerobic training and balance games. Wii Fit can put you through a daily body test to measure your weight and balance, and charts it all. You can log in other physical activity so the trainer (male version, pictured above) doesn’t make passive-aggressive comments about where you’ve been.

The pluses are many. First, it’s convenient. You don’t have to drive to a gym, or worry about whether it’s too cold and icy to run. Second, it’s educational. You’re instructed in how to do exercises the correct way, including images that pop up to show how well you’re balancing (that Tylenol with the red dot pictured above), thus showing you whether you’re getting the benefit of your exercise. Third, it’s competitive. You’re scored on how well you do each exercise. The better you score, the quicker you unlock more reps and more exercises. Also, you can compare yourself to other family members, friends or hobos who come through and use the system as well.

Now what does this have to do with youth sports? Why, I’m glad I asked.

If you have a child who is not athletically inclined or tends to be inactive, this is an easy, painless way to get him or her to exercise. After all, it IS a video game. With my own kids, even if I’m being hardass dad and putting a limit on killing zombies or chasing after the Lego Ark of the Covenant, I’ll tell them they still can play Wii Fit.

Invigorating, but technically not exercise.

If you have a child who is involved with sports, at any level, Wii Fit lets you hire a personal trainer for your kids without spending a bunch of money (about $400 total for the system and Wii Fit, assuming you can find either) or embarrassing yourself by admitting to people you hired a personal trainer for your 3-year-old. Yes, a 3-year-old can figure out Wii Fit; at least mine has.

I’ve had Wii Fit only since November, but I’ve noticed my 11-year-old son has more energy and quickness on the basketball court thanks to his frequent workouts, and that my 6-year-old is more balanced and stronger when he bowls. (Hey, bowling is a sport!) It will interesting to see how it affects my 9-year-old daughter when softball starts, but in the short term it’s sparked an interest in yoga, so much so that she’s now signed up for classes at a real yoga studio. She’s also started talking about Buddhism, thus indeed turning Wii Fit into a religious experience.