Childhood Obesity, Exergaming and 5 Fitness Solutions For Gyms
When some of us were children, we may recall our parents telling us to eat everything on our plate since there were “starving children in Africa” and other places around the world. On the contrary, while childhood hunger is still a serious problem, both here and abroad, the number of overweight and obese kids are growing globally.
According to the most recent figures from WHO (World Health Organization), gleaned from a report by the Commission For Ending Childhood Obesity, an estimated 41 million kids around the world, under the age of five, are considered overweight or obese. Their study also found within this same group of children:
- Overweight and obese Asian children make up 48% of that population
- 25% of African children are either overweight or obese
- The total number of obese children in Africa has doubled over the last 24 years
The United States seems to be fairing better in comparison since we’ve able to reduce our younger obesity rates from 13.9% in 2004 to 8.4% in 2012, down by more than 5%.
Started With Sugar
For many years, childhood cavities and expanding waistlines were blamed on too many sweets, especially those found in sugary breakfast cereals. Although processed, ready-to-eat cereal has been around since the Civil War, the taste and trend didn’t pick up until sugar was added along with colorful cartoon characters, enticing youngsters to gobble up their new favorite flavors.
Due to declining sales and negative publicity, in 2006, food and beverage companies established the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. It was promoting it as “part of the solution to the complex problem of childhood obesity by using advertising to help promote healthier dietary choices and lifestyles for children.”
But apparently they aren’t listening to their own advice or following the guidelines they put into place since little progress has been made with added sugar and salt. Many of us may be noticing less advertising directly geared towards children, so instead manufacturers are offering statements about how healthy their cereals are instead. But not much has changed over the years, for example, from 2009 to 2012, salt and sugar in children’s cereal was reduced by only 3% on average.
Let’s Move Dietary Stats
Proponents aimed at ending childhood obesity have offered another solution, get our kids moving! First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative may come to mind. On their website, they also point to additional dietary problems:
- An increase in the number of snacks children eat per day, up from one per day to an average of three or more from a few decades previously
- An overall rise in caloric intake, around 31% on average compared to decades ago
- Larger sweetened beverage serving sizes, up from around 13 ounces in the seventies, to 20 ounces at a time today
- Most Americans eat 15 pounds more sugar per year than they did in 1970 and 56% more fat and oils
- Portion sizes overall have risen two-and-a-half times in this period
While First Lady Michelle Obama’s dietary stats shows many unpleasant increases in our food intake, other numbers show a disappointing amount of exercise and activity with today’s young people. Older children and adolescents spend on average 7.5 hours each day on some type of media, whether it’s television, computers, video games or smartphones. It’s reported that only one-third of teens get the recommended amount of daily exercise.
The let’s move site also refers to a time when kids ran around at school during recess, came home and played outside until dark. When dinnertime came, we sat down around the table and ate healthier, smaller portions of food that included a serving of vegetables and a glass of milk. Fast food, pizza and eating out were rare treats, sweets and snacks were also seldom, rather than the norm.
So clearly we’ve gone from a generation of movers-and-shakers, to a majority of millennials who are lamers and gamers. We’re all clearly eating more red meat, fats and carbs while consuming less healthy greens, vegetables and fruits.
Less Lame and More Game
Given all of today’s technology, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to steer kids away from their omnipresent handheld devices, especially smartphones and game consoles. Thankfully there’s a solution that combines exercise with gaming, also known as exergaming.
Reminiscent of Nintendo’s Wii system, launched almost a decade ago, this controversial game system came with a new type of controller, complete with a wrist strap, meant to be used in a more physical manner. The compilation of games included with the initial purchase included interactive sports like baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis.
Since its release, sales of Wii products have skyrocketed and according to statistics, it’s not backing down anytime soon. Figures have shown since Wii was released onto the fitness platform, annual sales have gone on a steady uphill climb of almost 6 billion in 2007 to a whopping 70 billion in 2010 and topping off at over 100 billion at the end of 2015.
Since not all games played on Wii are physically interactive, it’s difficult to gauge the overall success of the programs that require participation that’s happening off the couch. Information from the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) helps to shed some light on this topic – the popularity of exergaming with children and adolescents.
Exergaming Stats and Info
Exergaming (sometimes called active gaming) is being dubbed “the future of fitness,” and is being touted as a practical solution to children spending the equivalent of a work day being sedentary with technology. Definitively speaking, exergaming is a technologically driven, game or routine that requires the participants to be physically active or exercise in some way in order to play the game or complete a task.
Just to be clear, the game based physical activities are more than simple hand and finger movements as the primary interface with the device. They require the user to apply full body motions in order to participate in virtual sports, play group fitness games, perform exercises or other interactive physical activities.
Studies have shown that different types of exergaming venues can provide moderate to vigorous physical activity levels and also give users positive physiological results. As with any exercise regimen, the results from the activities are dependent upon on how much the individual participates in the actual program or routine.
How Children React
In a survey, ACSM reported that over eighty-four percent of adolescents stated that having fun was the single most important element in life. Kids and teens are embracing these newer games and activities on a mostly positive level because they’re both fun and interactive.
When it comes to fitness routines, take into account these games are ever changing, with more titles containing different types of sports, other activities, and even varying plotlines, are emerging regularly. Apparently one of the biggest reasons the majority of people quit their exercise program or fitness regime is because of boredom so these choices should help to sustain their longevity.
Technology and Interaction
Given the overwhelming growth and popularity of social media, today’s youngsters are interacting with each other on a different level. Compared to a few decades ago, when connections were made mostly on a face-to-face level rather than screen-to-screen interactions. Exergames are keeping up with this trend by allowing multiple players to participate and peers are able to play alongside of each other on a virtual level.
They’re also communicating about the activity, discussing results, posting scores, competing with one another and are even assisting their peers on continued improvement, better methods and strategies. This allows young people to play their favorite games with their friends and become healthier and more active at the same time.
Choices and Options
Exergames gives participants the ability to make individual choices during game play since they’re self-paced. Users can choose their own difficulty level, mode of play and whom to play against. They may choose to play against the computer, compete with friends, family, a group of their peers or other online competitors.
Using an avatar allows for at least some anonymity so there’s less chance of being bullied at school or in other social and public situations. It also helps participants from becoming discouraged if they’re not doing well and motives them to become more active and stick with the program in order to advance.
To reach this important younger audience, gyms, fitness clubs and other workout venues are looking more closely at today’s technology and also following current trends. As with the majority of other public places nowadays, access to free Wi Fi is omnipresent. Here’s five other ways that gyms are helping get kids fit, stay active and current with today’s technological times:
#1 – Online Competition and Participation
Most people, children and teens alike, are competitive by nature and in many gyms, members are mostly competing with themselves in order to reach a specific goal or surpass a “personal best.” Using social media or other online venues such as the company’s website, gyms and their members are reaching out to participants to share their progress, invite others to join them, compare results with each other and discuss the entire process.
#2 – One, Two, Three – Dodgeball!
Whether it was the cult movie classic, “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” or even recent nods on current family programs like “The Real O’Neils,” this playground favorite from days gone by has been given a recent rebirth. When space allows or those fortunate enough to have a basketball court or other large arena, these are providing the perfect venue for this popular platform as a teen-friendly team sport.
#3 – Soul and Spinning Inspired Cycling
Similar to venues that offer Spin classes and reminiscent of Soul Cycle, gyms are attracting youngsters, especially teens, by offering cycling sessions geared towards their interests. With a time set aside for spinning, participants are listening to their favorite pop radio channel, checking out a new album hitting the shelves or highlighting singles from Billboard’s Hot 100 list.
#4 – YMCA’s Gamification Program
The YMCA of Greater New York has been engaging their tweens with a gamification program that applies game theory to engage young people in fitness activities through the use of points, badges, a leaderboard and timeline to inspire them to increase their daily workout levels. At a kiosk, kids browse through activities and can create “fitness playlists” to share with friends online. Their program encourages kids to create an online community of more active peers and they’re discussing their healthier lifestyle choices.
#5 – Institute Exergaming
Some gyms and health clubs are making a moderate investment in exergaming equipment to get young and old alike into using this newer technology. With an average cost of around $250 for a Wii system, $25 for a non-slip dance (dance revolution) pad and around $15 for each game, this is an affordable alternative to traditional gym equipment that can easily run into thousands of dollars.
These trends seem to be working since reports from the NY Daily News are indicating that obesity rates are leveling off among teens. More importantly, activity and exercise are on the rise with today’s youth, along with eating more healthier, fruits and vegetables. While there’s still room for improvement, things are looking up for today’s young people when it comes to health and physical fitness.
About the Author
Mark Kirkpatrick is a journalist for health and fitness enthusiasts. He lives in the Los Angeles are with his wife and two energetic daughters. As a former enlisted Marine with over 8 years of service, he has found that productivity starts with healthy habits and hopes to help others achieve their goals through positive reinforcement. His goals as a graduate journalist is to send a message to those that need just a little more guidance in following their ambition and enjoying the path it takes them to.