Row, Row, Row Your Butt Off

The month is almost up and I am excited to post my last Kids Eat Right-related article next week and begin researching a new topic. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you can skip out on me! I’ve still got two posts with which to capture your attention and challenge your creativity!

I found this article on NPR Boston this morning and really enjoyed the message it sent about exercise for kids and the potential for a good debate it introduced. I encourage you to read (skim) it during your lunch break.

The story is called “If You Build a Crew Program for Overweight Kids, They Will Row– And Get Fitter.” It’s not the catchiest title, but the message is strong: overweight and obese kids do not get the recommended number of hours of exercise, and the school PE environment does little to help boost their enthusiasm or confidence in this area. Thus, Boston Children’s Hospital has created a program called Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) On the Water that allows obese kids to engage in physical activity within their comfort zone. How? Rowing with other overweight kids.

0919_OWL-rowing02
OWL On The Water participants bring a shell out of the Community Rowing boathouse in Brighton, and to a dock on the Charles River. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

While some gym teachers may label these kids as unsuitable for excellence in team sports, it turns out that obese kids often possess a lot of muscular strength. Rowing is a great way for these kids to build that strength and avoid high-impact weight-bearing exercise that might hurt their joints. It’s also a great way to build camaraderie and confidence within a group of kids all suffering from the same issue of weight. The program is in its 10th season and fitness improvements in the 24 enrolled students have been documented every year.

Sarah Picard, Boston Children’s resident psychologist, says that her clients are the kids usually picked last for school sports. Some even avoid school to avoid participating in annual fitness testing. My favorite quote from the article is one of hers: “They [obese and overweight kids] are strong, powerful people, so when you put them in a program that caters to their strength set or ability set, they thrive.”

Alternatives to school gym class are popping up everywhere as communities and more formal organizations strive to engage the 23 million American kids who are overweight or obese. Their existence brings up some important questions:

  • How can our current school physical education system become more effective in encouraging kids to get active?
  • Should schools address physical activity in overweight and obese kids differently compared to their normal weight peers?

Dr. Michael Bergeron, executive director of the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute, points out the culture of exclusion that has developed in youth sports as coaches seek out the best students for their teams rather than those that could benefit from the exercise.

  • Do you agree?
  • How can school and community sporting teams focus on winning and encouraging health?
  • What does it mean to be “healthy” or “fit”?

Share your thoughts below! Read the original article here.

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