We can see your eyes rolling already, but bear with us: Should an inactive child use a personal trainer to become more fit and healthy?
Time was, that question might have seemed ludicrous. But in an era of overworked (and under-fit) parents, justifiable desires to keep kids from roaming neighborhood parks solo, ubiquitous butt-bound digital entertainment and a habitat loaded with high-calorie treats, today's kids increasingly are tomorrow's chronic disease statistics. Approximately 30 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight and 15 percent are obese, according to the American Obesity Association. And child obesity predicts adult obesity with frightening accuracy.
But a personal trainer? A $50- to $70-an-hour luxury most of us don't even allow ourselves?
"We may lose a generation to obesity and diabetes," said Rich Salke, owner of Rich Bodies, a gym in Georgetown. Salke works with many children, fat and fit alike, as young as 10. Even well-intentioned parents might lack the knowledge and community resources to rescue their children from the express lane to obesity, Salke said.
Other experts, including some who have no vested interest in kids' training, agree.
"The exercise professional who should have the greatest impact on public health [for children] is the personal trainer," said Walter Thompson, a kinesiology and nutrition professor at Georgia State University and an expert on personal trainer programs. "If parents see that their child is overweight, they should consider" personal training, Thompson said. He and others say children as young as 7 or 8 could start working with trainers.
Trainers can help kids who don't enjoy organized sports or are embarrassed doing active things with fitter kids. You can use body mass index (BMI) to determine if your child is overweight or obese. (Find a child BMI calculator at www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/bmi-for-age.htm.) But Steven Horowitz, Maryland director of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and director of Velocity Sports Performance in Rockville, has a simpler method: "It's pretty obvious when your kid tries to run down the block or up stairs. If they cannot do that [because they get winded], you have a big problem."
So, okay, maybe a trainer could help your child. But won't kids get bored by the follow-the-clipboard-around-the-gym routine?
Yes, said Salke. He frames exercises as games to keep kids interested and having fun. One routine involves hanging a rope from the ceiling and testing kids to jump up and touch it, first with one hand, then the other. "That builds quad power and coordination, and they love it," he said. He has kids hurl stability balls at the ground to see how high they'll bounce, and jump back and forth over a band stretched between two points. Salke works with individual kids and small groups, including sibling pairs.
Salke and Thompson agree that the training must be fun for the kids and that parents should pick trainers experienced with children and certified by NSCA or the American College of Sports Medicine (no group yet certifies in pediatric training). Insist on talking to parents of other child clients.
"This can be expensive," Thompson said, "but so is the loss of income and wealth when the child becomes ill with a lifestyle-related disease like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer."
Want to talk about this and other fitness topics? Join us Thursday at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/health/movingcrew.
-- John Briley