A group of kids exercise together during Fit Club.The childhood obesity rate is climbing at an alarming pace.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years.   Along with poor eating habits, a lack of physical activity is contributing to the growing problem.

A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, such as television, computers, phones, video games and other electronic devices.

This “screen time” is cutting in to the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity children need to live a healthy lifestyle.

The solution? Put down the electronics and encourage your children to become active.

Physical activity provides numerous benefits for children.

“Children who are physically fit will have a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease and depression,” said Kathy Grierson, PA-C, community programs coordinator at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital.  “In addition to the health benefits associated with exercise, physical activity promotes development of motor skills and coordination.”

Grierson explains that physical competence can also build self-esteem and social skills.

“When a child masters a skill such as crossing the monkey bars or running a mile, it builds their confidence,” she said. “When activities are experienced with other people, it provides an important chance to develop social skills.”

“Children tend to have wonderful, positive energy,” Grierson said.  “Allowing them to direct this energy into a fun and safe physical activity is a great opportunity for them to learn about themselves and help them choose behaviors that will sustain a lifetime of health and wellness.”

Grierson offers these tips to parents for promoting active lifestyles for children:

  1. Encourage children to play outside, ride a bike or play a sport.
  2. Take walks or bike rides as a family.
  3. Take children to the park. If the weather is bad, find an indoor facility such as an indoor swimming pool, skating rink or basketball court.
  4. Find fun indoor activities such as dancing, playing Simon Says, building a fort or obstacle course, or playing with a pet.
  5. Limit screen time.
  6. Encourage active play by purchasing gifts that promote fitness such as jump ropes, hula hoops, bikes, balls and bats.
  7. Walk more whenever possible. When shopping with your kids, park further from the store entrance.  If age appropriate, safe, and a buddy system is used, walk to and from school.
  8. Be a good role model. Children learn from their parents. Reduce your own screen time and plan healthy activities you can do as a family.