The number of overweight and obese children is alarming, says Anne Kean, who manages the LSU AgCenter’s Body Walk program.
“We’re seeing children have diabetes, cardiovascular issues, anxiety and depression — diseases that were typically adult diseases, but we’re seeing them in children as well,” Kean said.
By being physically active, children can reduce their risk of developing these diseases while also building strong bones and muscles, she explained.
LSU AgCenter’s Smart Bodies program helps teach elementary school children healthy habits in an interactive way.
It includes in-class education with a group of characters called the OrganWise Guys. The “Take 10!” component helps incorporate physical activity into daily lessons. The third part of Smart Bodies is the Body Walk, a gymnasium-sized exhibit that allows children to walk through a representation of the body while learning ways to keep their bodies healthy.
“We teach them healthy habits, healthy nutrition, how to be physically active in order to reduce the likelihood they’ll become overweight or obese as children or as adults,” Kean said.
The Body Walk has been traveling to schools across the state for six years and reaches more than 50 schools a year, according to Kean.
Evaluations of the program reveal that children increase their knowledge of health and nutrition. Kean said a reason to target children is that it is easier to change the habits of a child, and children tend to be more enthusiastic about the message and take that information back to their families.
Families can find many ways to incorporate physical activities into their daily routines, she said. Formal exercise routines that adults are more likely to participate in aren’t necessarily what children need.
“Make it more like a game,” Kean said. “It can be something as simple as a playing tag, jumping rope or dancing.”
Kean added that children should participate in activities that are aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening.
“Bone-strengthening activities are particularly important for children and promote bone growth by producing a force on the bones, usually by some sort of impact like jumping or hopping,” Kean explained.
An example of a muscle-strengthening activity would include climbing a tree, Kean said.
“The key is for children to be active in a variety of ways doing activities they enjoy,” she said.
Childhood obesity rates range from 9.6 percent to 21.9 percent in states throughout the country. States with the highest adult and childhood obesity rates tend to be located in the South.
Kern can be reached via email at email@example.com.