Brian Grasso is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association. Become a certified Youth Fitness Specialist or learn about the specific aspects of training children, youths and teens for free by visiting www.IYCA.org.
Youth obesity has become the epidemic of note throughout society.
Countless governmental bodies, independent organizations and mainstream media outlets are constantly revealing statistics and projections related to this problem. According to several sources, the youth overweight/obesity numbers exceed 30 percent of people under the age of 18 in the United States and are expected to rise toward the 50 percent mark by 2010.
The numbers and trends within the United States echo what is happening on a larger scale worldwide. Other nations such as Australia and Canada have reported increases in youth obesity as high as 10 percent to 20 percent in certain age demographics over the past decade.
While this topic remains a tragic one and in certain need of attention, there seems to be much in the way of discussing the problem and very little in terms of what is truly needed: a comprehensive solution.
What we need is an action plan that will help kids and families rid themselves of the burden that has virtually crippled our youngest generation and even led to a vernacular shift in medial terminology. For example, Type 2 diabetes used to be referred to as “Adult Onset” until it became a common illness diagnosed in thousands of children due to their overweight concerns. Maybe more importantly, however, we must peel back the layers and ascertain what the true cause for concern is with this topic. Is obesity really the problem, or is it the symptom of a greater matter?
When you become ill with a cold, do you ever treat the sneeze? Probably not. I imagine that you have never gone to your doctor when ill and informed them that you have been sneezing and, therefore, require some kind of anti-sneeze medication. You recognize that sneezing is a bodily response to an infection and results because of mucus build-up. Furthermore, the infection is the core problem and root of the concern.
The same can be said for youth obesity. The obesity factor is nothing more than a bodily response to an inappropriate lifestyle devoid of activity. Obesity is not the problem—inactivity is. And while this perspective change may seem insignificant, I can assure you that in order to truly find success when working with a client, your No. 1 goal must be to find the root of the problem.
Moreover, contemporary youth fitness programs are widely considered unsuccessful because of their lack of attention toward the actual problem and creating its corresponding solution. We have an industry obsession with attacking the superficial realities in front of us. When our clients ask for weight loss, we place them on calorie-restrictive diets and put them through the tortuous demands of an intensity-filled training routine. When that weight loss is required quickly, we go to extreme measures and create boot camps based around enacting military-style workouts that serve to shed the pounds fast.
But what we are missing is that these interventions serve to attack the superficial nature of the quandary. They are trying to fix the sneeze. By not addressing the mental, emotional and lifestyle realities that brought our clients to this place to begin with, we are almost guaranteeing that they will fall off the wagon and eventually revert back to the lifestyle actions that brought us to them in the first place.
This is a tragic revolving door scenario with adults. It is virtual child abuse with kids.
Boot camps, fat camps and surgical interventions, irrespective of how successful they may appear in the short term, do absolutely nothing to attack the problem. Kids are too inactive on a daily basis. Increase daily activity and you will have solved the problem from its core in one fell swoop.
In order to make that happen, you must create daily fitness activities that are both developmentally sound and fun for kids. “Fun” and “developmentally sound” are operative points in this equation. Children are not little adults, and the exercise requirements they have are vastly different than those of grown-ups.
Additionally, the fun factor is something that we simply must embrace. Children are not naïve nor are they mentally incapable of understanding what it is they enjoy. When kids have fun, they want to do it again. It can’t get more basic than that.
Here is a list of things to remember and implement when creating altruistic and profitable youth fitness programs:
1. Slow down. Ensuring that your youth fitness program is profitable is not a matter of getting results quickly for your young clients. It’s about helping make activity fun for them and allowing exercise to become a daily norm. Your revenue dollars will come flowing in once your community sees how much fun the kids in your program are having and how much they are benefitting from your slower, yet consistent path to success.
2. Play, don’t work out. Keep kids off strength and cardiovascular training equipment. A developing human being requires free movement-based stimulus in order to build proper bodily function. Machines are far too restrictive in the aspect of free movement to have full benefit related to kids. Avoid personal training with children. The social interaction of fitness is of equal value to kids as is the exercise itself.
3. Don’t over-coach for perfect form. Outline an exercise or drill and then let the kids play, have fun and allow their bodies to understand the concepts of the movement. This is imperative for proper development.
4. Keep it basic. In terms of exercise selection, don’t over-think the matter. Create games and drills around five basic headings of run, jump, throw, crawl and climb. If your training programs involve these basic movements, you can be assured that the exercises are developmentally sound and evoking the necessary responses through the nervous system of a growing organism.