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With Fitness, Parents Hold The Power

Children stretch as they participate in a Heartlight USA program.
Courtesy of Mari Jarvis
Children stretch as they participate in a Heartlight USA program.

Put down the candy and remote control, Mom and Dad. If you want to reduce the risk of raising an overweight child, it's time to clean the pantry of processed foods and start pedaling that bike.

"Parents need to set the example," said Mari Jarvis, president of California School Fitness, a nonprofit organization that runs fitness programs for children. "If one parent is obese, their child has a 40 percent chance of being obese; if both parents are obese, the chance is 80 percent."

Obesity continues to be a serious problem for children, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's estimated that about 17 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese.


Exercise is key, Jarvis said. Parents need to set an example by consistently engaging in physical activity and making that a priority.

"You can't just tell your child to go exercise and expect them to follow through," Jarvis said. "Parents do have control over the environment and they have the opportunity to take their children to exercise. I would recommend that parents set the rule that their children have to walk with them in the morning, or hike the mountain with them, or not watch television unless they've rode their bikes together. Parents need to really assert that."

Experts say parents should encourage their children to get outside and play. But in this culture of computers, video games and cell phones, it's not so easy. According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, kids age 8 to 18 spend more than 53 hours a week in front of some kind of screen -- be it television, computer or smart phone.

"For every hour spent in front of the television, the obesity risk goes up by 2 percent," Jarvis said.

Instead of banning video games, play to their strengths. For example, the Wii gaming system offers several options that help a kid break a sweat, like dance, soccer and beach volleyball.


Jarvis says it is important to make exercise a priority when children are very young.

"By the time children enter kindergarten, if they are obese, the chances of them losing weight and becoming normal weight is practically zero," she said.

Other tips include:

Monitoring your children's friends and ensuring they participate in a healthy lifestyle. "Friends are more of an influence than anything," Jarvis said. "If you're doing everything right, but your child is going to their friend's house twice a week and consuming 1500 calories after school, it's not gonna work."

Trying an after-school program. Jarvis founded Heartlight USA, an after - school dance aerobics program that's run in more than 100 schools in San Diego County. "I feel personally that children who are fit generally have a higher level of confidence and overall happiness," she said.

Be consistent. "It has to be a belief that you want to instill this value and you need to understand the importance of this value," Jarvis said. "Involve them in a wide variety of activities at a young age, and make sure your household is an active household."

The child care industry has long been in crisis, and COVID-19 only made things worse. Now affordable, quality care is even more challenging to find, and staff are not paid enough to stay in the field. This series spotlights people each struggling with their own childcare issues, and the providers struggling to get by.