Are Personal Trainers the Key to Ending Childhood Obesity?
By Jennifer Green, MS
|Jennifer Green, NCHPAD Visiting Information Specialist|
In today's society, families are busier than ever, from work to school to club activities and meetings. So, families are cooking fewer meals at home, and opting to just simply eat out; and the portions you receive at restaurants are larger than you would have at home. But, if you decide can always count on going through the drive through for dinner, it may be hard to find healthy options. This, in combination with television shows, video games, computers, and schools eliminating or cutting down on physical education classes, leave children with less physical activity. There are now estimates that 22 million children worldwide are overweight, and that number only includes children under the age of 5. The U.S. Surgeon General says that in the past 20 years, the number of children who are overweight or obese has doubled. In response to this epidemic, parents are now beginning to turn to personal trainers to help their children increase physical activity, and learn how to make healthy lifestyle decisions. However, in order to meet this growing trend, personal trainers and fitness professionals need to recognize and understand the different requirements of physical activity for children, as opposed to adults.
Children and adolescents require special considerations when exercising because of growth, and the immaturity of their physiologic regulatory systems at rest and during exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) guidelines for exercise prescription establish the minimal amount of physical activity needed to achieve the various components of health-related fitness. The ACSM suggests at least 3-4 days per week of physical activity with daily exercise preferred at a moderate to vigorous intensity. Moderate is defined as physical activity that noticeably increases breathing, sweating, and heart rate, while vigorous is described as physical activity that substantially increases breathing, sweating, and heart rate. Children and adolescents should accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity, half of which should be moderate activity, with the other half more vigorous. These activities, which should be enjoyable and developmentally appropriate for the child or adolescent you are training, may include walking, active games/play, dance, sports, and muscle/bone-strengthening activities.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the ACSM recommend strength training for children as young as 6 years old. Contrary to a popular misconception, there is no evidence that an age-appropriate strength training program, done under qualified supervision, is detrimental to a child. In fact, research has shown that strength training helps children maintain a healthy body weight, benefits skeletal and joint development, and improves sports performance. Generally, adult guidelines for resistance training may be applied; eight to 15 repetitions of an exercise should be performed to the point of moderate fatigue with good mechanical form before the resistance is increased.
There are several special considerations to take into account when training children, and adolescents. Your clients will have immature thermoregulatory systems; therefore, youth should exercise in thermo-neutral environments and be properly hydrated. Also, overweight children may be unable to achieve 60 minutes of physical activity, and therefore a gradual increase in frequency and time is suggested, and intervals may be used to achieve this goal. If a child has additional existing conditions, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes mellitus, cerebral palsy, etc., these should be taken into consideration, and a tailored program should be created based on their condition, symptoms, and functional capacity. As the fitness professional, you should also be suggesting ways to incorporate healthy choices into everyday activities and reduce sedentary activities.
Fitness professionals who work with children should be creative in their prescriptions, and be aware of psychological and emotional issues that they may be facing. During this time, children's self-esteem, sense of belonging, and independence are still being learned. It is also important to understand the child as an individual, as well as his or her need to fit in with groups. Creating exercise programs for children can be an exciting and fulfilling experience for fitness professionals, as long as they are aware of current guidelines and have the compassion it takes to work with this unique population.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Sports Medicine. Strength Training by Children and Adolescents. June 2001.
American College of Sports Medicine. (March 1998). Current Comment, 'Youth Strength Training.'
Childhood overweight and obesity. (2010). Retrieved September 20, 2010, from
Thompson, W. R., PhD, FACSM, Gordon, N. F., MD, PhD, MPH, FACSM, & Pescatello, L. S., PhD, FACSM (Eds.). (2010). ACSM's guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (8th ed.). Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Please send any questions or comments to Jennifer Green at Jennifer Green.