Indianapolis Star, February 2011, Guest column: Arlene Ignico on need for physical activity in early childhood
Headline: Scary statistics: Even preschoolers are vulnerable to obesity
By Arlene Ignico
Over the last 20 years, the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents has become a startling reality in the United States. Yet, the most troubling statistic is that slightly more than one in five preschoolers is overweight or obese.
The Children’s Defense Fund released the State of America’s Children Report for 2010, finding that 21.2 percent of children between age 2 and 5 are overweight or obese. The problem has steadily deteriorated — particularly among low-income families. Research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that overall prevalence of obesity among preschoolers from low-income families increased from 12.4 percent in 1998 to 14.5 percent in 2003 and remained at 14.6 percent in 2008.
Recent research found that behavior, genetic factors and environment play an important role in whether or not children have a healthy weight. For example, poor eating habits, excessive television watching, parents who are overweight and smoke, neighborhoods too violent for children to go outside, lack of parks and playgrounds, and limited space to play increase the risk of childhood obesity.
In contrast, physical activity can improve children’s health and lives. Participation in regular physical activity helps children build and maintain healthy bones and muscles, cuts the risk of developing obesity and chronic illnesses, and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.
The risk of not providing young children with opportunities to be physically active can result in negative long-term consequences such as coronary diseases, Type 2 diabetes and several other chronic conditions. Children who are obese during preschool age tend to remain obese during adolescence and adulthood. Obese children also tend to perform motor skills poorly because of their increased overall mass.
While the troubling statistics point to problems within the American lifestyle worsened by our fast-paced society and fast-food mentality, research suggests that children who engage in physical activity during their early years and adolescence are likely to be physically active adults.
So, it’s time for parents, relatives, babysitters and other caregivers to adopt a new mantra for these youngsters. We must recognize that exercise — along with healthy eating habits — should start at an early age.
Preschoolers really don’t need to know that vigorous play helps them learn and master fundamental motor skills to prepare for a lifetime of physical activity. They just need to chase a ball, dance, push a cart or run around until they collapse from laughter. It will start the next generation down a road that may help them avoid obesity.
Arlene Ignico is associate chair for the School of Physical Education, Sport, and Exercise Science at Ball State University.
Copyright © 2013 Ball State University 2000 W. University Ave. Muncie, IN 47306
800-382-8540 and 765-289-1241