Teach Youth Fitness Programs to Fight Childhood Obesity

Learn about the childhood obesity epidemic and discover how you can fight childhood obesity by leading group fitness classes in the school system.

Updated: July 2019 | Originally Published: September 2017

The childhood obesity rate in the USA is staggering. The CDC states that since 1970, the percentage of children and adolescents impacted by obesity has more than tripled. Yes, tripled. 

The current data from the CDC shows that nearly 1 in 5 school age children (6-19 years) in the United States is living with obesity. BUT the encouraging news is that we are at the start of a movement – a movement to make our younger generations healthy again through more than just sport participation. As group exercise instructors, let’s get involved!

One of the best ways to get out of the gym is to take your skills in group fitness to your local public and private schools and help kids get more active. Not only would you be working with a niche population that many forget about, you would also be helping a population who is struggling with obesity—a population who needs you now more than ever!

Imagine your reward when you help an overweight child breathe better, move faster, and enjoy being in motion? After all, isn’t this the reason why you began teaching in the first place?

Some History

First, let’s get a better understanding of how our younger generations have reached this point by reviewing some facts from the Let’s Move website, a program launched my former first lady, Michelle Obama (hear her talk about it in the short video clip below).

Thirty years ago:
  • More kids walked to and from school.
  • More schools offered Physical Education classes as part of daily curriculum.
  • Fast food was rarely eaten.
  • Portion sizes were significantly smaller.
  • Screen technology was virtually nonexistent.
  • More kids get rides in cars and buses.
  • Physical education has been minimized or completely cut out of school curriculum.
  • Kids eat 200 more calories per day in snacks alone.
  • Portion sizes are five times bigger than they were in the past.
  • Teenagers are engaged in at least 7.5 hours of screen entertainment per day.
  • Only one-third of high school students get the recommended level of daily physical activity.

The Good News

With all of this awareness, we are starting to see a shift in how we approach our youth’s health. In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the long overdue No Child Left Behind law. With this new act, Physical Education will receive a renewed focus in our schools’ curriculum. This means that schools should be returning PE classes that were once cut due to funding. This means PE programs will be mandated, although not necessarily funded. And while today, in 2019 we are still only seeing small shifts and movement in physical education programming in schools, this is still a positive step.

In addition to congressional level programs, many other organizations have taken in on themselves to help improve the health of our youth through different programs, including:

  • In 2007 the NFL launched Play 60, a movement to help foster a more active generation.
  • Nigel Lythgoe (Executive Producer of So You Think You Can Dance) & Congresswomen Eleanor Holmes Norton co-founded National Dance Day in 2010 to encourage people to incorporate dance into their daily lives.
  • Sport for Life is a Canadian initiative that encourages children, youth, and adults to develop a long term love for movement.

In the fitness space, the American Council on Exercise has done a lot to bring awareness towards fitness programming for youth. In 2017 they co-hosted a Twitter chat – #ActiveKidsActiveFuture – with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. This conversation looked at ways fitness professionals could create afterschool physical activity programs for youth.

While these initiatives and congressional acts are by no means a solution, they are a least steps towards helping our youth get more active.

Teach Youth Fitness Classes

National initiatives and congressional acts to increase PE in schools is just a start. Kids need more opportunities for movement before and after school. As a group fitness professionals, YOU can help with this battle, while also building your resume.

A few years ago, a mom named Amy offered a weekly yoga session for my son’s first-grade class. She was able to earn hours toward her yoga training, plus add the class to her fitness resume. My son, Mason, returned home each day and demonstrated the poses he learned in class. It was clear to me that both Mason and Amy felt a sense of reward during that yoga experience.

But before you dive in and start calling public schools and offering your services, it’s super important to remember that KIDS ARE NOT JUST LITTLE ADULTS. Their bodies are growing on a daily basis, causing their anatomy and physiology to be different from adults. Therefore, it’s super important that you do your research, learn the science behind working with youth, and create really well designed programs that allow them to thrive through movement.

A Peak at Youth Physiology

Researchers spend their careers learning about the specifics of youth physiology, here is a quick list of key facts you should consider when working with kids in any type of fitness, dance, yoga, or sports program. (This does get technical, review our article on Exercise Physiology for Fit Pros to ensure you know all the technical terms!)

  • Evidence indicates that physical activity during growth (particular running and jumping activities or multi-joint exercises) if preformed progressively can significantly increase bone mass. Achieving peak bone mass as an adolescent will contribute to maintaining more bone mass during later decades of life where bone mass is diminished.
  • Fast reaction time, skilled movement and fine motor control cannot occur before nerve fibers are completely myelinated (aka the nerve is fully covered with proteins and phospholipds – causing impulses to quickly respond and react).
  • They have a smaller heart and less total blood volume (causing smaller stoke volumes and a lower cardiac output).
  • Their anaerobic capacity is lower, meaning they will fatigue faster.
  • Kids are at an increased risk for heat stroke as they don’t sweat at high rates, and thus can’t lower their body temperature on their own.

Get Certified in Youth Fitness

There are many different organizations offering education for fitness professionals on working with youth. Check out this video from American Council on Exercise about the benefits of a Youth Fitness Specialty Certification. Then do your research to determine the company and certification that is best for your needs.

Companies offering Youth Fitness Education & Training’s:

  • (ACE) American Council on Exercise
  • (AFPA) American Fitness Professionals & Associates
  • (IFTA) Interactive Fitness Trainers of America
  • AntiGravity Fitness
  • CrossFit
  • Drums Alive
  • FiTOUR
  • Zumba

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