CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
I am writing to you about my 9-year-old son. He is overweight and each year is less and less active. I have tried to involve him in sports, but he is not interested. I've persuaded him a few times to walk with me in the evening, but he doesn't like to go. I know he needs more exercise, but nothing interests him, and I am out of ideas. His best friend is also overweight and was just diagnosed with high blood pressure! Can you advise? -- Worried
I certainly understand your concern and frustration. Unfortunately, there are a great number of parents struggling with this same issue. It's a Catch-22 when overweight children pull back from physical activity.
Imagine this scenario: As the child becomes less active, they begin gaining weight. As they gain weight, they find more ways to spend time sedentary (TV, Internet, video games). They continue to gain weight and lose confidence until they are no longer comfortable with activity. Parents recognize this lifestyle as unhealthy and try motivating them to become active, and it is almost always met with opposition.
Encouraging an overweight child to play a sport typically backfires because they usually lack the self-esteem and experience to jump into a competitive situation. They realize they're not equipped and predict it's not going to end well.
How did we get here?
Less physical activity in physical education classes and elimination of active recess in many schools certainly figure into the mix. Add the prevalence of fast food, the rise in popularity of inactive video games and you have a pretty potent recipe for childhood obesity.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic in our nation and, sadly, statistics tell us that overweight/obese children grow up to be overweight/obese adults. They don't outgrow it. A leading researcher on this subject is Wayne L. Westcott, a professor of exercise science at Quincy College in Quincy, Mass., who has written 24 books on physical fitness and youth. He recognizes the role self-esteem plays in how physical activity is perceived. The connection is undeniable.
Something has to change
Westcott is dedicated to reversing the trend of childhood obesity because he knows these young people face a significantly higher risk of chronic disease -- heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, degenerative conditions, high blood pressure -- if they remain sedentary.