Why fitness and wieght matters in children

Public health messages about healthy weight and maintaining physical fitness have never been as important as during the COVID - 19 pandemic. Research has shown obesity is a significant risk factor for the disease. Being physically fit also helps the immune system fight infections.

Fitness among children in the UK has been steadily declining in recent years, and levels of obesity have risen. Almost half of children leave school either overweight or obese.

Health experts are increasingly concerned about the health of the next generation.

Why is being overweight bad for children’s health?

Overweight children are developing diseases associated with obesity at a younger age. These diseases include Type II diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Being overweight can also impair the functioning of the immune system making a person more prone to infections. Obesity in children tends to track into adulthood and causes both physical and mental health problems along the way.

How do I know if my child is overweight?

Many parents find it very difficult to tell if their child is overweight. However it is important to check if your child is a healthy weight by entering their height and weight in a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator like the one here.

Children between the ages of 4 and 11 years are measured as part of the Child Measurement Programme. You should be informed if your child is not within the healthy weight range.

Why is physical fitness so important in children?

Surveys have shown low level of fitness among children and teenagers in the UK. Being fit and exercising regularly has a major effect on physical and mental health. Being overweight tends to go hand in hand with being unfit.

What exactly does being physically fit mean?

There are two key components to fitness:

Cardio fitness

One measure of fitness is cardio (cardiovascular) fitness which is the ability of the heart, lungs and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to the cells in the body.

Cardio fitness is important because it is related to children’s current and future health, wellbeing and quality of life. Fitter children and teenagers learn better and are healthier than less fit people, and they tend to be fitter and healthier as adults.

Musculoskeletal fitness

Musculoskeletal fitness incudes muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. There is some evidence that this has declined recently because of reduced physical activity during the lockdown. Declining muscle and bone fitness will lead to poorer balance and weaker bones in later life.

How much physical exercise should children aim to do?

Children and young people aged 5 to 18 should: aim for an average of at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every day. This should range from moderate activity, such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running and tennis. The 60 minutes can be broken up into smaller periods such as 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon..

What are the best ways of getting children to enjoy a healthier life style?

Eating a nutritious diet and being physically fit is part of a healthy lifestyle that can help children enjoy their lives, avoid being ill and doing well at school.

Here are some key tips:

  • be a good role model because children learn by example. One of the best ways to encourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself
  • encourage at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of physical activity a day
  • keep to child-sized portions. Try to avoid feeding your child large portions. Start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they are still hungry.
  • eat healthy meals, drinks and snacks. Children, like adults, should aim to eat 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Meals made with lots of fruit and vegetables are rich in nutrients and contain fewer calories.
  • avoid having biscuits, confectionary, soft drinks left around the house for children to help themselves to.
  • screen time should be limited so that it does not interfere with a child’s sleep. Studies have shown children watching TV use less energy than when they are asleep so balance screen time with other more energetic activities.

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