Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Youth Movement Takes Off

“Facing a generation of couch-potato kids at risk of obesity and illnesses such as diabetes, parents are spending big bucks for health club memberships, fitness equipment and personal trainers designed to get youngsters—some just toddlers —up and moving. As the nation's schools have cut back on physical education classes, the youth fitness industry has flourished: American families now spend an estimated $2 billion a year on child fitness. ‘There is an emphasis on sports in our culture, and people turn there when they are looking for ways to get their kids active,’ said Dr. Anthony Luke, director of primary care sports medicine at the University of California San Francisco. ‘Really, they are just trying to be good parents.’ And businesses are tapping into that parental desire. Youth memberships are one of the strongest growth areas for the fitness club industry, and clubs catering to young people have spread across the country. Little Gym and Gymboree offer ways for infants and toddlers to get active. Chains such as Fitwize 4 Kids, which has an outlet in Schaumburg and another opening in Deerfield next year, offer everything from yoga to rigorous circuit training to resistance exercises. Fitness club memberships for youths age 6 to 17 have more than doubled in the past two decades, rising from 1.3 million in 1987 to 3.9 million in 2007. More than 1.3 million of those memberships were for children 6 to 11, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. About a quarter of the adult fitness businesses in the country have children's programs, and many YMCAs and private and public schools offer weight machines, recumbent bicycles and other fitness equipment for kids. The video-game industry has joined the fitness bandwagon too. Beyond Wii Fit, Nintendo's interactive exercise program, there is also Gamercize, a device that makes video games work only when the player is stepping or cycling. New guidelines released this month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend an hour or more a day of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical exercise for children and adolescents, including activities such as bicycle riding, soccer or jumping rope at least three days a week. With busy family schedules and concerns about neighborhood safety weighing on parents' minds, many youths are more likely to play video games inside than ride a bike outside. As a result, more than 19 percent of children age 6 to 11 are considered seriously overweight, resulting in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”


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