American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to take stock of where we stand and think about how the health coaches and fitness industry can optimize its efforts to make a positive impact on the weight status of our youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers tips to help families create and support healthy routines, including ensuring adequate sleep, reducing screen time and staying active. In addition, the CDC provides tools to help kids stay at a healthy weight, make healthy snack choices and move more. 

ACE also has several resources that health coaches and exercise professionals can share with their clients who are seeking family-oriented physical-activity solutions: 

These are all fantastic resources that health coaches and exercise professionals can share with their clients, while also educating them on why reducing childhood obesity is so important. For example, the longer childhood obesity persists, the more likely it becomes that it will continue into adulthood, and therefore increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease in adulthood.  

If you are working directly with youth, rather than with their parents or caregivers, those long-term preventive reasons are unlikely to hit home and trigger behavior change. For children and adolescents, feeling better (both physically and mentally) and having more energy may provide more motivation for pursuing weight management. 

Where Do We Stand? 

All ACE Pros and industry professionals know that the childhood obesity statistics are sobering, but it’s important to understand where we stand so that we can move forward effectively and with intention. Here is a summary of the prevalence of childhood obesity in the U.S. for children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years old between 2017 and 2020: 

  • The prevalence of obesity, which is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of accepted BMI-for-age growth charts, was 19.7% and affected about 14.7 million children and adolescents. 

  • Obesity prevalence was 12.7% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.7% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 22.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations. 

  • Obesity prevalence was 26.2% among Hispanic children, 24.8% among non-Hispanic Black children, 16.6% among non-Hispanic White children and 9.0% among non-Hispanic Asian children. 

The 2022 United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth from the Physical Activity Alliance is similarly dismaying, with grades of a D– on “Overall Physical Activity” and a D on “Sedentary Behaviors.” To learn more about this report and how you can help turn the tide, read The Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth: Are We Making the Grade? 

The SUNRISE Study – And ACE’s Role 

ACE is proud to sponsor research being done as part of the SUNRISE Study, which has several objectives: 

  • To examine the prevalence of preschool-age children who meet the World Health Organization (WHO) global guidelines for physical activity, sedentary screen-time and sleep time 

  • To examine how attainment of movement behaviors are related to motor competence 

  • To examine how movement behaviors (physical activity, screen-time and sleep) and motor competence are associated with other developmental and health outcomes, such as adiposity, executive functioning, self-regulation and perceived physical competence 

  • To determine if movement behaviors differ by sex, socioeconomic status or urban/rural location 

The first piece of ACE-sponsored research, which validated the efficacy of remote assessment of preschool children’s anthropometrics and motor skills, was published in July 2023. Researcher Amanda Staiano, PhD, associate professor and director of the Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., explains that this is just one small element of the larger SUNRISE Study. 

My research has examined innovative ways to prevent and reduce obesity in children and adolescents,” says Dr. Staiano. “One established pathway to prevent and mitigate the effects of obesity is through physical-activity participation. In 2019, the WHO developed guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under the age of 5 years. The SUNRISE study aims to determine the proportion of children who meet the WHO guidelines. Additionally, SUNRISE examines how meeting these recommendations is associated with child health and developmental outcomes. 

Dr. Staiano also led earlier ACE-supported research on step tracking with goals, which was not part of the SUNRISE study, but may be of particular interest to professionals working with children or families interested in weight loss. That study found that wearable trackers are only effective if the wearer is working toward an individualized step goal. 

What This Means to You 

As Dr. Staiano explains, “The results of this study will help health coaches and exercise professionals better understand the importance of physical-activity promotion from a young age, including how physical activity, sedentary time and sleep relate to children’s motor skills and cognition. 

This enhanced understanding, coupled with practical tools like those offered by the CDC and the skills you already possess as an ACE Certified Professional, leave you well positioned to positively influence the physical-activity levels and weight status of today’s youth. Yes, the numbers and trends can be troubling, but it’s never too late to make a positive impact, even if it’s one child or family at a time. 

If you are interested in helping the youngest generation get moving and get healthy, check out the ACE Youth Fitness Specialist program, where you’ll learn about programming considerations for working with youth, as well as communication and leadership skills.

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