Dr. Kelli Ulrich, PT
My job as a physical therapist is not only to help restore physical function and mobility but also to promote overall wellness.
Today, let’s talk about childhood obesity. For ideal wellness and overall development, children should be physically active every day—probably more than you might expect. Preschool children should be physically active throughout the day, and children ages six to 17 should get 60 minutes per day or more of moderate to vigorous exercise.
Only one-third of children are physically active on a daily basis and one in five children in the U.S. struggles with obesity. These statistics have worsened through the pandemic.
How parents can help prevent obesity
As a parent you should encourage physical activity. Children ages six to 17 should have 60 minutes of aerobic exercise daily with muscle strengthening and bone strengthening three days a week.
- Aerobic – activities that increase your heart rate and make you breathe faster
- Muscle- strengthening – climbing or doing push-ups
- Bone-strengthening – jumping and/or running
It is also important to limit screen time. You’ve heard it time and time again, but screen time is a sedentary activity and should be limited to 60 minutes a day. One study reported that on average, children are exposed to 7.5 hours of screen time per day, not including school-related computer time. Over the course of a year, that adds up to 114 full days watching a screen for fun.
Parents should also model healthy behavior. Let your child see you working out. Exercise as a family; walk the dog together; get out and play. Encourage your children to build a snowman, sled or ice skate when it’s cold.
When intervention becomes necessary
Some children may just not enjoy physical activity, but sometimes there may be more going on. Children who strongly dislike being physically active or display negative behaviors in PE class often have decreased strength and endurance impacting their ability to keep up with their peers.
In these cases, physical therapists can be invaluable in evaluating your child, identifying possible impairments and helping them better participate in PE class, recess and physical activities. By conditioning children in a caring environment under a PT’s care, we can help to improve overall strength, balance and coordination.
Learning the joy of physical activity can set your child up for future success in leading healthier and more fulfilling lives in the long run.