Childhood Fitness: Start Them Young

Whether you work with kids professionally as a teacher or coach or are just a concerned parent, it’s your responsibility to show kids how to incorporate, enjoy, and crave movement.

The childhood obesity epidemic in America is insane. The problem doesn’t just pertain to prepubescents and adolescents, preschool-aged children also have their own obesity population. It’s hard to fathom the idea of little kids dealing with obesity, but the fact of the matter is 13.9% of 2-5 year olds are obese.1 You didn’t read that wrong—13.9% or 2 out of every 15 small children are dealing with the effects of obesity.

While there are many contributing factors to obesity, lack of physical activity is a biggie. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.2 As a mom to three young kids and a health enhancement teacher to over 100, I can tell you first-hand this is not enough. Kids need to move their little bodies, a lot! Despite this, there are many kids failing to get even the minimum amount. Only 21.6% of 6 to 19-year-old children and adolescents in the United States are physically active for 60 minutes, five days per week.3

Considering the effects obesity has on these little bodies and the fact that approximately 80% of overweight children become overweight adults, 4 something needs to be done. Yes, this is a multifaceted problem that won’t have an overnight solution; however, things need to change, now.

I think one of the most important steps we can take is to start kids on the right path as early as possible. Getting kids in the habit of moving rather than maintaining a sedentary existence is a good starting point. But what’s the most effective way to do so?

Facts to Ponder

A very recent study compared three different types of recess time for preschool children. One consisted of free play where the kids could do as they pleased; the second was structured and involved a fitness instructor leading the children through different activities; the third, the control, gave the kids access to age-appropriate books, computer games, and learning activities.

Accelerometers were used to measure activity levels of the children during the three different types of recess. As you’d expect, the kids were significantly less active during the control recess. There was no significant difference found in activity levels between the free play or structured recess. However, after the recess period, researchers discovered something of interest.

For starters, kids who participated in the control recess completed significantly less physical activity throughout the rest of the school day. Secondly, when the children were engaged in structured play during recess, they were significantly less active after recess compared to both the free play and control groups.

Researchers deduced that children who were highly active during free play exhibited a significant reduction in physical activity during structured play and visa versa—kids who were not as active during free play significantly increased their activity level during structured play.

What Does This All Mean?

To me, it means kids are similar to adults — we all have our preferences and personalities. While some like to run wild and do whatever comes to them on a whim, others are more reserved with their bodies and actions. Their brains and bodies may not intertwine in a way that makes spontaneous movement possible or even fun for that matter. These kids need to be instructed on what to do and how to do it.

I see this all the time in my classes. I do quite a bit of structured activity in order to teach the kids specific skills but I mix in free play every few classes. During free time, the majority of the kids are going wild, but there’s always a select few who don’t really know what to do with themselves. In contrast, these quiet ones thrive when they’re instructed on exactly what to do.

Whether you work with kids professionally as a teacher or coach or you simply have a couple little humans running around your house, it’s our responsibility to show them how to incorporate, enjoy, and crave movement. Get to know your kids. Find out how they prefer to engage in physical activity and cater to that need. It will be better for everyone involved if we can get our kids moving and reverse this childhood obesity trend we’re dealing with. It might be a small start, but it’s a start.


1. “The State of Childhood Obesity“, Iowa State Obesity Data, Rates and Trends – The State of Obesity. Accessed June 22, 2018.

2. “Healthy Schools“, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 28, 2017. Accessed June 22, 2018.

3. “Healthy Schools“, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 09, 2018. Accessed June 22, 2018.

4. Burdette, Hillary L., Robert C. Whitaker, and Stephen R. Daniels. “Parental Report of Outdoor Playtime as a Measure of Physical Activity in Preschool-aged Children“, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 158, no. 4 (2004): 353. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.4.353.

5. Frank, Megan L., Anna Flynn, Gregory S. Farnell, and Jacob E. Barkley. “The Differences in Physical Activity Levels in Preschool Children during Free Play Recess and Structured Play Recess“, Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness 16, no. 1 (2018): 37-42. doi:10.1016/j.jesf.2018.03.001.

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