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Helpful Rehab Hints


Physical Therapists Give Kids and Parents Tips for Avoiding the Obesity Trap

ALEXANDRIA, VA, March 24, 2003 ¾ Nine million children are either overweight or obese, according to a study release yesterday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is urging parents to help their children avoid the obesity trap by making sure that their kids fit physical activity into each day.

APTA member and pediatric physical therapist Heidi Jo Hetland, PT, MS, PCS, says that children too often exercise in short bursts; but, in order to achieve a good fitness level, they need to keep their heart rates up for at least 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Many activities can help children raise their heart rates, such as walking at a faster pace than normal, or participating in more vigorous activities such as running and bike riding."

Sustained physical activity will help children achieve cardiovascular fitness, build bone mass and strength, manage their weight, and help prevent type 2 diabetes, which studies have shown is on the rise in children who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

"Type 2 diabetes, otherwise known as adult-onset diabetes, traditionally was found in adults," Hetland said. "Now we're seeing it in children, partly because of a lack of physical activity and exercise. The 'usual suspects' of increased computer use and easy access to television play a role, but now budgetary problems are prompting schools across the country to eliminate physical education classes. With kids being over-scheduled in the after school hours, and many parents, because of security concerns, discouraging kids from playing outside when the parents are not at home, there is very little time for exercise."

Hetland says that exercise needs to be a family affair. "Families need to spend time engaged in a physical activity, even if it's something as simple as taking a walk after dinner," Hetland advises. "Parents should be role models for their children's physical activity. Unfortunatley, if even one parent is overweight or obese, the child is more likely to follow suit. It's much easier for children to stay healthy and adopt good habits if they see their parents making exercise a priority."

Hetland advises parents to support their children by emphasizing a healthy lifestyle rather than focusing soley on weight. "Don't emphasize weight," Hetland cautions. "Instead, encourage your child to make the kinds of choices that will promote a lifelong healthy lifestyle. Remember, skinny kids can have bad eating habits and can be unhealthy in terms of cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. Don't focus on the scale."

Physical therapists are aware that both children and adults may have experienced difficulties with maintaining an exercise regime; therefore, they develop specific exercise programs based on individual needs. "The guidance and encouragement of a physical therapist who understands someone's needs and monitors his or her progress closely can often mean the difference between success and failure," Hetland said.

Hetland addresses activity and obesity issues in children from birth to 5 years old with North Carolina's Children's Developmental Services Agency. She is also co-founder of Healthy Kids, a program for children ages 7 to 11 that focuses on identifying and overcoming barriers to exercise and activity, exploring different types of exercise, and identifying healthy eating choices at the Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic of Alamance Regional Medical Center and the Lifestyle Center in Burlington, North Carolina.

The American Physical Therapy Association is a national professional organization representing 64,000 members. Its goal is to foster advancements in physical therapy practice, research and education.

Fitness Tips for Parents and Kids Sheet From the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

  • Limit television, video game, and computer time...all sedentary activities. Remember that television commercials encourage children to crave the foods they see.
  • When your child watches television, encourage him or her to do some exercises, such as sit-ups or push-ups, during the show (or at least during commercials).
  • Plan weekend family activities involving exercise, such as swimming or bicycling.
  • Help your child plan group activities with friends, such as skating or hiking.
  • Rember that your family does not need to join a health club or buy fancy equipment to be active. Walking is inexpensive and easy. Weights can be made from soda or detergent bottles filled with sand or water.
  • Provide positive rewards for your child for engaging in physical activities, such as workout clothes, a new basketball, or an evening of roller-skating.
  • Set an example for your child by being active yourself and trying new exercise routines or sports activities.
  • Provide positive feedback about your child's lifestyle changes. Remember not to focus on the weight (for you or your child).
  • Be your child's "exercise buddy." Plan daily walks or bike rides and set goals together for increasing physical activity. Do not set goals of losing weight.
  • As you schedule your child's extracurricular activities, remember to plan time for exercise. Don't just "squeeze it in" only if there's enough time.