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Family fitness: Get kids moving for better health

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

A key part of child health is instilling good lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating and exercise, into their routine at an early age.

However, family fitness and exercise sessions can be difficult to organise - particularly when other activities, such as work and school, prove so time-consuming.

So how can you ensure you and your children enjoy a healthy family exercise routine?

Childhood obesity

A lack of exercise and a poor diet has led to what experts describe as an " obesity epidemic".

About 20% of 10 to 11 year-old children in the UK are obese and a further 15% are overweight. In other words, about 1 in 3 children at this age is either overweight or obese, and for adolescents the proportion is almost two-fifths. The proportion of overweight and obese children in the UK has been rising steadily every year for more than two decades.

"The earlier obesity occurs, the more likely it is to be serious," says Professor Paul Gately, an expert on childhood obesity and founder of weight loss organisation MoreLife. "And weight is relatively 'sticky', so we know that at the age of 5, about 90% of kids who are obese are likely to be obese adults."

So preventing obesity in children is crucial.

"If we talk about childhood obesity, it's all about the parents," says Jessie Pavelka, fitness expert and presenter of the TV show, Obese: A Year to Change my Life. "When you have parents who are wondering, why is my kid obese? What's going on? I ask them: Are you leading by example, and if so, what is the example?"

If one parent is obese, there is a 40% chance that their children will be obese. If both parents are obese there is an 80% chance that their children will be obese. But if neither parent is obese there is only a 14% chance that their children will be obese.

Where do you start?

So where should parents start if they want to make a lifestyle change for the better?

Jessie Pavelka says the first thing to do is look at the food you're giving your family. Is it wholesome, varied and nutritious? "All the knowledge is out there," says Jessie. "Thanks to Google you can easily find out what is healthy and what isn't."
Next step: get active. "It's just doing something," says Jessie. "It doesn't have to be sport." For children, it could be climbing a tree, riding a bike, or kicking a ball around the garden. For parents, it might be washing the car, gardening, or taking the dog for a walk.

The important thing is that parents must lead by example. "Parents-as-role-models is absolutely fundamental," says Professor Gately. "The evidence shows very clearly that the activity level of parents, especially, drives the activity levels of their kids."

Professor Gately says that parents don't necessarily realise the value of just going out and playing in the park with their kids. They often feel they don't have the time. "Households will often sit in front of the TV for 2 or 3 hours a day," he says.

"There is the time, it's just how you spend that time, and that's the effort parents have to make."

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