A too-busy lifestyle, too much fast food, too many electronic devices, too little time for exercise. What’s a parent to do to encourage children to be healthy and active?
As it turns out, there are plenty of ways in which to do this – namely, by being a good role model, and also by gently nudging kids in the right direction.
Take, for instance, the example set by Lelyn Lamitie-Furey of Salinas, California, who regularly walks or bicycles with her daughter. Not just weekends, but also to get to school most days.
“We live about five blocks from her school, and if she can get herself together in time, we walk there,” said Lamitie-Furey. “Or I walk and she rides her scooter, or we both ride bicycles.”
Lamitie-Furey has made it a priority to make exercise a habit, but as a fun family activity, and that’s exactly the right way to get kids moving, said Mary Adams, president of the United Way Monterey County.
“You have to build exercise and activity into one’s daily routine,” said Adams.
Adams and other United Way officials are concerned about the issue of healthy children, something that greatly affects the community at large, as well as children’s future health.
Of course, this is a concern not just locally, but nationwide. In the United States, one in six children ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese, according to recent figures from the American Heart Association. And children who are obese between ages 10 and 13 have an 80 percent chance of going on to become obese adults, which can mean a lifetime of related health problems.
Adams said it’s more important than ever for parents to seek out opportunities for their children to be active, either in community-based sports and dance programs, or as a family.
“Some of the good news is that we have wonderful programs” like afterschool basketball academies in East Salinas, numerous soccer leagues throughout the county, as well as baseball and softball leagues, she points out.
In addition, notes Adams, exercise can come in a cultural form as well, through local dance groups. “They encourage healthy exercise as well as the importance of and respect for one’s heritage,” she said.
Suggesting such activities for kids, and supporting children as they get involved, is vital for parents to undertake since physical education programs have languished in the schools, mainly due to the state’s budgetary woes.
But there are other ways to mix fun with healthful learning.
Lamitie-Furey said that in addition to planning active outings, and her husband have also planted an organic vegetable garden, which will be a source of homegrown produce as well as an opportunity for their children to learn how things grow. She is teaching 7-year-old Madeline about healthy food choices, and will do the same with 6-month-old Patrick when he’s older.
Being outdoors is something that she and her husband have always enjoyed; they’re sharing that as a family now.
“We’re active people,” she said. “It’s just second nature for us to be out of the house.”
She’s also made it a policy to turn the TV off during the week, which also encourages outdoor play, and often takes her children to the neighborhood park when school gets out.
Lamitie-Furey said she’s also trying to teach her daughter to value a healthy lifestyle over preconceived notions of how she should look. Even though Madeline is only 7, Lamitie-Furey said that girls in her class are already talking about being “fat,” and Lamitie-Furey wants her daughter to know that a person can be healthy at any size.
“You can be thin and not be very healthy,” she said.
Adams said that’s it’s important to seek out any opportunities for fun fitness, no matter how small, and to make activity and healthful habits a part of everyday life. “There are a lot of little things parents can do,” she said.
Interviews with Lelyn Lamitie-Furey and Mary Adams, August 2012