Want to hear a scary statistic? Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents in the United States aged 2—19 years are obese. Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in America with many contributing causes including; the kind of food available in schools, limited access to grocery stores with healthy foods (also called the grocery gap), lack of physical activity in school and at home, increased portion sizes and an increase in media usage among young children and teens. Obviously there is no overnight solution, but childhood obesity is something that we as parents can fight against. In addition to changing up the kinds of food we let into our house and how much TV and computer-time our kids have, getting our children involved in youth sports is a great way to get them up and moving and getting that hour a day of physical activity we all need.
Here are a few reasons why youth sports can help contribute to a healthier lifestyle for our kids:
It’s not exercise, it’s a game!
Not too many kids are going to want to hop on a treadmill anytime soon (most adults don’t like it all that much either). And why not? Because it’s boring! But sports is exercise in disguise! It’s a lot easier to keep moving when you’re having fun, right? Think about it—your child would probably never want to sprint back and forth down a basketball court for no reason. But give them a basketball and just one person to play against and they’ll run around all day! Obviously some sports require a bit more moving around than others (think how much running you’ll do in soccer versus baseball) but every step counts and the more fun they have the more steps they’ll take.
Also consider the idea that if you can get your child used to moving and doing, not just playing video games or watching TV in their free time, they’ll (hopefully) carry that attitude with them throughout their life. It doesn’t matter if they stick with youth sports or not—go for a bike ride, play tag or Frisbee at the playground, take up another activity like rock climbing—as long as you are moving!
By turning exercise into a game it becomes something they want to do, not something they have to do (and resent).
See why the right food matters.
If your kid wolfs a Big Mac and fries for dinner (or maybe just doesn’t eat dinner because they didn’t like the options) and then has to go to hockey practice, chances are they won’t be feeling too good on the ice. That’s because what they eat directly impacts how well they perform on the field/court! It’s easier to make a point stick when a youth athlete experiences it firsthand. Sure, you get eat a ton of candy before your game and have a sugar rush carry you through the first half, but you’ll never make it on candy alone.
By showing them how the food they eat actually does matter when they want to do something, hopefully it will help teach your athlete how to start thinking smarter when it comes to their food choices. Does it mean they will love broccoli? Maybe not, but maybe it will remind them to not go straight for the cookie jar before heading to practice.
Is youth sports the answer to childhood obesity? It may not be the magic bullet solution but getting kids moving again is definitely a great first step to helping them lead healthy lives.