With schools closed and team sports cancelled, Drew Meyers of Oakland, California, struggled to keep his kids active as online learning, gaming, and socializing took over.
The advertising executive and father of 2 sons ages 14 and 12 observed a lethargy sink in as the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the options for staying active.
“Everyone, the kids and the parents, struggle with a certain complacency of being inside and giving up to the extent you are just stuck,” Meyers said. “And that is reinforced by the fact that everything can be delivered to us at home. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Luckily, Meyers’ flexible work schedule allows him to take his sons to the beach to surf 1 or 2 days a week. At home he also sometimes creates monetary or other incentives to get his kids out of the house to walk the dog or go skateboarding.
“All of us parents experience that rut of letting our kids do nothing, but you have to consciously decide to break out of it and force them to go outside,” he said.
That kind of attitude is important now more than ever, said Kaiser Permanente Northern California childhood obesity expert and pediatrician. Allison Collins, MD.
“We’re seeing huge issues of inactivity,” said Dr. Collins, who runs the Kaiser Permanente Healthy Eating, Active Living program in Santa Clara, California, which is now entirely online. “Many of my patients who were not previously overweight are now obese. And those who were previously overweight, I’ve seen their weight go even higher.”
While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data currently pegs childhood obesity at 18.5% nationwide for kids ages 2 to 18, that figure is predicted to rise significantly, said Dr. Collins.
Overcoming a fear that kids who go outside will contract COVID-19 is one of the first major hurdles many parents face, followed by motivating them to exercise, she said.
“Not only is it safe for children to go outside, it is good for them,” Dr. Collins said.
A mother of 2 children ages 6 and 9, she said parents must get creative to motivate their kids to get up and move. Offering incentives for exercising can help with motivation, as long as you do not use food as a reward, she said.
“I got my kids some cheap step counters,” Dr. Collins said. “If they meet a goal for a certain number of steps 5 days a week, they get a reward like a gift card to buy music.”
Playing games with dice or cards, where the numbers you roll or draw correspond to the same number of pushups or jumping jacks, can be a fun way of passing time inside or out.
“We also went to the local park and used chalk to create a fitness course with activities at different stations like dancing or running in place, then other people in the neighborhood started using the course,” Dr. Collins said.
For kids who just can’t seem to tear themselves away from their computers, parents can use a timer reminding them to stand up and move for a few minutes, “anything to stop them from sitting.”
“Just taking your kids to a park or the beach will naturally get them running around,” Dr. Collins said.