Monday, September 23, 2013

Youth Fitness - Preventing Life Long Injuries & Disease

Over the course of the last year, all of our posts have been related to injury prevention in sports and literature reviews of current research.  Yet, as a parent and fitness enthusiast, I have always had a passion for involving our children in fitness.  As such, this article is one of the most important we have published all year.  For it addresses a core issue with a much more devastating impact than most sports injuries and if not addressed will have major implications on our countries future.  In the mid-90s, an alarming trend started taking place around the country in our schools, the discontinuing physical fitness classes or PE.  Many of these were removed willingly to be replaced by what was felt to be more academically stimulating classes.  Unfortunately, we are now feeling the repercussions of those poor decisions both academically and physically. 

Living in the south, you see this more than most.  With 3 states in the area representing the Top 3 in youth obesity.  With this distinction comes an increase in diabetes, asthma and a plethora of orthopedic problems.  Parents, schools and communities all over the country are sharing this heavy burden with the epidemic rise in youth obesity.  In the last several years, Tennessee has been identified as having the third or fourth highest incidence of obesity in the country.  In Tennessee, the health effects of youth obesity has resulted in a rise in diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and depression to name just a few. 

With a sudden increased awareness of health care costs and cost containment with health care reform, many wonder why it cost so much.  Is it providers charging too much, inefficiencies in the way health care is administered or combination?  It is really a combination but just as important is the alarming de-conditioning status of our national youth.  In 2003, the health care costs and expenses associated with obesity related illnesses cost TN $1.8 billion. Currently, insurance companies pay ~$7,500 to $7,800 per year in health care cost for every life they cover.  It is speculated, with these current trends and as these children age, this could result in insurance companies paying nearly double, $14,000 per covered life, by 2014.  This means increased health care cost for parents, employers and communities, decreased access to health care and overburdening an already taxed health care system.  Hence, some kind of change was going to happen with or without health care reform.  Aside from reform, how do we address the "root cause" of the problem? 

Currently, parents are faced with a daunting problem with little help in site.  Some communities are starting to take a proactive approach to aid in fighting this epidemic within the school system.  Some states have instituted putting body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentages on students’ report cards.  Unfortunately, this is often perceived poorly in a population that can have some self esteem issues already.  Hence, this is less than favorable approach.  When the child's BMI is listed on their report cards, there is not much explanation of what this means or more importantly what parents can do about it.  Unfortunately, many states and school systems that created problems (with removal of PE and physical fitness requirements) are now trying to shift the blame to parents.  Often asking them to solve a problem that so few know how to address. 

The important message to take away from all of this is that you do have an option.  Parents and providers who get involved are more likely to have stronger influence on their children than anyone else.  Being involved means:

  1. Parents get a general check up with your physician or pediatrician.
    1. Making sure to check for diabetes, blood panels, etc.
  2. Educate yourself on the basics of nutrition and exercise to teach your children or students.  No one will take a more proactive approach at your child’s future health and wellness than you. 
    1. Educate yourself on general nutrition and how to analyze a food label to determine what appropriate food choices are.
    2. Have your child keep a food log with what they are eating, when they are eating and why (is it simply lunch, are they bored, depressed, etc).
    3. Determine what are the motivating factors to your child’s eating habits.
  3. Get involved!  Our children mimic our behavior more than we will ever know.  The example we set in front of them every day is the example they will follow.  Getting involved in fitness activities with your child on weekends or at night not only creates a great time to bond, but also models a behavior for them. 
    1. For a great book, check out Fundamental Fitness: Playground Exercises for Grownups by Jen Hoeft.  This book provides all kinds of exercises you can do with your children to improve everyone’s fitness.  They are fun, active and easy to do.
  4. Seek help if you need it.  There are some programs being run by various fitness clubs and personal trainers.  Make sure you get the right one for you and your child and that you have someone who is qualified.   

At the beginning of this article, we stated that this will have a huge an detrimental impact on our country if it is not address.  This will happen in 4 different ways:
  1. Increased national health care costs for all.  With rise in obesity comes a rise in all health care costs associated with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, etc.
  2. Increased national security costs - current injury rates amongst new recruits in the US Military are rising.  Why?  One major component is lack of physical preparedness.
  3. Decreased global standings in education - there is a plethora of research indicating that mental acuity, ability to learn and retain information is greatly impacted with all of the health conditions associated with obesity.
  4. Decreased national security - with the rise in national obesity rates comes a recruitment population of dwindling size and ability.  
I know some of that sounds far fetched, but is it really?  This is a trend we must reverse.  But what is the solution?  No one really has "the answer".  It is a very complex issue but one that we must all be a part of the solution.  For those of us that interact with children each and every day and those of us that are parents, have more influence on them now and their future lives than we will ever know.  The only solution to this epidemic is involvement and commitment from all.  It is parents and providers who take an active role in their child’s future health and well being that will aid in turning the tide on this epidemic problem.  I would ask you, if you enjoyed this article, please share it!  For it is the efforts of many that can turn tides.

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