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Getting Kids to Be Active


Parents, physicians and health policy makers alike recognize that getting kids to eat well and exercise will protect them against many health risks but that getting them to do so can be tough.  Two recent highly criticized efforts, an exhibit at Epcot and a rhyming book by Paul Kramer, unfortunately used shame and bullying as motivators.

In February, normally kid-friendly Disney drew fire from many for an interactive exhibit called "Habit Heroes" at Epcot, which challenged kids to help thin heroes fight fat villains named 'Lead Bottom' and 'The Snacker'. The exhibit has since been closed. Ottawa bariatric surgeon Yoni Freedhoff said, "The truth is, if it was that simple to manage weight, I'm pretty confident we wouldn't have a problem."

Everyone chuckled as Maggie got up to bat.

Maggie was not only clumsy, she was also quite fat.

Verses like those above in the newly released book Maggie Goes On a Diet, targeted at kids ages 9-12, attempt to raise the virtues of healthy eating, but in a wrong-headed way, according to Travis Saunders. He writes, "The book suggests that kids should focus almost exclusively on their weight, and that reducing their weight will win them friends and admirers, as well as making them athletic superstars. It also promotes an incredibly unrealistic expectation of dramatic and rapid weight loss, and places the blame/responsibility for body weight on the shoulders of the children themselves."

Instead of trying fat-shaming books and exhibits, recent studies show that getting kids involved in physical activity at a young age helps get them closer to the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity a day. The types of activities also seem to be important. One study covered by the Health Behavior News Service shows that girls who join organized team sports at age 11 are more likely to stay physically active as they get older. And enticing at-risk youth with activities they already view as cool or fun, like active video games or hip-hop dance, can encourage more of them to participate. On the other hand, another small recent study reveals it may take more than just access to an active video game to keep kids moving.

Can upping the cool factor of healthy eating and exercise help reach children who might not otherwise get the message? A new effort by Grammy and Emmy Award winning producer Quincy Jones III seems to think so. His new website,, features urban artists and celebrities promoting the idea that health equals wealth. Health isn't always easy. But it's always worth it'Because you don't just want to feel good. You want to feel rich.


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Conversation Continues feature ongoing discussions or news on current health topics with links to related materials.  They are part of the Center for Advancing Health’s portfolio of free, evidence-based coverage of what it takes to find good care and make the most of it.

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Children and Young People's Health   Lifestyle and Prevention   Conversation Continues   Promote your Health  

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