This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune”
Arecent study by the Journal of Adolescent Health found that encouraging overweight and obese teens to move more through use of their everyday environment (versus organized sports) led to significant, sustained increases in physical activity.
My first reaction to reading the study headline: Duh. My second, after reading a synopsis of the study: Yikes. Have we really come to this?
The study involved educating kids on ways they could move and locations near their homes where they could do so – stuff that, in my opinion, 10-to-16-year-olds ought to be familiar with by now.
But that’s not where it ends. Nope, that’s not even where it begins. Because saying, “Kids, why don’t you go play at the park?” is not enough nowadays, what with technology and money. Each participant, who wore an activity monitor, set weekly activity goals and received text or phone messages reminding them of their goal, plus a low-cost gift (such as a ball, Frisbee, etc.) to encourage physical activity, and small monetary gifts when they met their goals.
Overall, intervention group participants averaged 9.3 minutes more daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than did control group participants (38 minutes versus 28.7 minutes). Increases in daily physical activity were sustained for at least three to four months.
But can we really call this a success, that adolescents move an additional nine minutes per day when harassed with text messages and rewarded with cash?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the kids in the study, and I hope some of them developed some healthy habits and a new love for moving their bodies. But where do we go from here? Give all kids fitness trackers and offer to raise their allowance when they play at the park?
We have a problem when movement becomes something we have to ask our kids to do. But it’s not just the fate of overweight kids like the ones in this study that concerns me.
What concerns me is kids equating movement to burning calories. Kids asking for a Fitbit for their birthday. Kids moving exactly 4.5 hours a week because that’s how much time they spend playing organized sports. Kids choosing to run on a treadmill instead of climbing the monkey bars because they read that it burns more calories. Kids whose only experience seeing their parents move is when mom goes to the gym to “undo the damage I did last night.”
Sound familiar? Mamas, it starts with us. If we want our kids to move more, we have to move more. Every day, in all different ways, not because our Garmin watch said so, but because it’s good for us! Promoting an active lifestyle is not just about signing your kids up for soccer and swimming lessons, or even about running a 5K with your kids watching. Those kinds of things are awesome, but it’s also about saying, “Let’s walk to the store,” instead of driving. It’s about seeing a puddle and jumping over it instead of going around. It’s about getting off our devices and setting good examples for our kids.
If we want our kids to have a healthy relationship with their bodies, we need to model a healthy relationship with our own.
Actress Kate Winslet told Vogue magazine in 2012: “It starts very young. As a child, I never heard one woman say to me: ‘I love my body.’ Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. Not one woman has ever said: ‘I am so proud of my body.’ So, I make sure I say it to [my daughter], because a positive physical outlook has to start from a very early age.”
How do you talk about your body in front of your kids? When you refuse a slice of cake, do you say, “I don’t deserve it,” or do you casually say, “No thanks, I’ve had enough sweets for today?” When your kids ask why you go to the gym, do you say, “I need to lose this tummy,” or do you exclaim, “Lifting weights makes Mama feel strong!”
Your kids are listening. It’s great to model healthy eating habits and to exercise in front of your family, but if you do these things out of disgust for your body or as punishment, they will know.
Reports have shown that by age 6, girls start to express concerns about their weight. An estimated 40 to 60 percent of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight or about becoming fat. And let’s not forget the boys – who are also prone to body self-consciousness, but no one is making realistic-looking versions of action figures for their sake.
We can blame the media, schools, technology, socioeconomic factors, our children’s friends – there are plenty of convenient scapegoats. But the truth is, our kids’ beliefs and values start at home, with us.
Move your body. Love your body. Not just for your sake, but for theirs.
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.