Fighting Childhood Obesity

There is a looming obesity crisis facing children today. It should not be ignored. Here are some scary statistics:

· Sixteen percent of children ages 6-19 are overweight or obese (over 9 million).

· Over the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for pre-school children ages 2-5 and adolescents ages 12-19.

· The rate has more than tripled for children ages 6-11.

· Nearly one-third of U.S. children ages 4 to 19 eat fast-food every day, resulting in approximately six extra pounds per year, per child.

· Fast-food consumption has increased five-fold among children since 1970.

Experts agree that inactivity and poor eating habits contribute to obesity. National guidelines recommend 150 minutes of physical activity each week for elementary children and 225 minutes for older children. Given this information, few states have requirements in place for daily physical education.

So are sports a panacea to this problem? No, but they can definitely offer children a lot of help in dealing with it.

Brain Food

The physical health risks associated with obesity, while disturbing, are common knowledge. However, researchers are finding that this condition affects more than just the body; there are social repercussions, too. Sociologist Robert Crosnoe from the University of Texas at Austin recently completed a study that found obese students are less likely to attend college than their thinner peers. This discrepancy was attributed to the negative experiences obese children encounter at school.

The Good News

As a parks and recreation professional, you can combat obesity and inactivity without children even being aware how much you are helping them. The programs that you organize and the facilities you lease out to youth groups are the weapons that will fight this ever-increasing problem. Innovative and quality sports programming needs to be included for a well-rounded program diet.

One of the best ways to make programs more attractive to the community is to include the parents. For example, the renowned Start Smart Sports Development Programs, launched in the mid ’90s by the National Alliance For Youth Sports, teaches children as young as 3 years old the basic motor skills needed for a smooth transition into organized sports. And parents are encouraged to participate in every throw, kick and step of the way. Recreation professionals universally tout Start Smart’s many unique aspects, ranging from the quality parent-child bonding sessions to the colorful equipment proven to enhance learning and skill development.

Recreation agencies that utilize Start Smart--in more than 1,000 communities nationwide and in dozens of countries--enjoy wide-ranging benefits. Most notably, children are less likely to quit sports in frustration because they go into leagues with a sound understanding of basic skills. In addition, parents who gain key insights in teaching their child sports skills become strong candidates to assume volunteer coaching roles in the community. And the recreation department generates additional income through user fees that support the services it provides.

So keep that in mind as you plan your programs and recruit volunteers. The better the programs, and the more types of physical activities that you offer, the greater impact you’ll have on children in many areas of their life. Anything that can be done to increase enrollment in vigorous activities will help fight this epidemic.

For more information on making a difference in your community through Start Smart, visit or e-mail startsmart@nays.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Next issue: The Social Power of Sports

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” available on He can be reached via e-mail at