In September of this year, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) came out with its report on childhood obesity. The report said, “Over the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2 to 5 years and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6 to 11 years. At present, approximately nine million children over 6 years of age are considered obese.”

To add fuel to the already out-of-control fire, a recent report out of Britain by the Fabian Society said, “Children's poor eating habits could result in them living shorter lives than their parents.” However, the IOM report shows that “Fortunately, a healthy home environment can promote healthy habits and alter unhealthy habits.”

In her book EVEolution, best-selling author Faith Popcorn recommends that if you want to reach the younger generation, you start with the mothers because “mother knows best.”

But the challenge today is that mothers of nearly 76 percent of children over the age of 5 are in the workforce, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, a solution to this looming health crisis may well lie with those who are experiencing longer life — the grandparents.

According to a study by the AARP, grandparents reported sharing a number of roles equally with parents. Part of this shift is due to the fact that older Americans are spending about 20 years longer in the grandparenting role than the previous generation. And, they take their roles more seriously.

OUR FOOT SOLDIERS

Fitness facilities can take a proactive role by helping to enlist the support of the older generations. This is not just good for business; it's good for the future health of the nation. To achieve this, the first step must be to create and then offer compelling intergenerational programming options. The following six ideas will help you get started if you are not already offering intergenerational programs. Just remember to make them fun.

  • Family events. Find activities that allow all generations to exercise together. You could hold a club sports day every month. Create categories for all members of the family to enter, but remember to choose activities that all can do.

  • Intergenerational classes. Offer non-traditional classes that help the younger generation learn more about the forms of exercise that the older adults did when they were young. This also gives the grandparent the opportunity to shine, i.e. dance classes such as ballroom, swing, jive, fox trot, the twist, etc. Of course, this will also depend on the age and functional level of your grandparent. You may even want to add a multicultural aspect to these classes, if this is more representative of the population, i.e. salsa and tango, etc.

  • Go green. Offer the opportunity for the grandparent and child to get exercise but to also learn about the environment, i.e. take a road trip with a group to help clean up the local park or highway.

  • Club fit. Have the grandparent act as a volunteer to help the instructor with a group strength-training program that has the goal of increasing bone density, strength and balance in both the older adult and the grandchild. If you make it cool to belong, you'll end up with the whole neighborhood. The Center for Disease Control offers support materials for a variety of kids' initiatives, as does the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport.

  • Support the cause. Every month there are multiple opportunities to get your clients involved in active fund raising. Whether it is the Race for the Cure, Walk America or doing something special for your sweet “heart” on Valentine's Day, these opportunities get your club and participants active in their communities. Choose causes that are of interest to the kids and the grandparents. Examples include school fundraisers or fundraisers for kids' sports teams, grandparent's day or older adult's month. Food drives or other worthy causes can also be another opportunity to connect.

  • Around the world in 80 days. Use this opportunity to educate the grandparent and grandchild about the benefits of walking, how to enjoy it and how to make it rewarding. Have them track their results and their steps. The objective is to walk around the world in 80 days. Every step counts towards actual mileage. Have a map on the wall showing the progress of those participating. To reward them for their on-going participation, use the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports awards program, offering both the grandparent and grandchild an award.

There is no quicker way to impact the lives of our youth than to enlist an army of aging foot soldiers, giving our children a link to the past and a more positive perception of aging. That is not only good for business, but it is also good for the soul.


Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. In the past 21 years, he has emerged as one of the nation's foremost visionaries and original thinkers regarding the health and well-being of the older adult. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. Milner's efforts have inspired a broad spectrum of industry leaders and publications to seek his advice. Included among these is the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Seattle Times and Parent Magazine.