// Growing trends in obesity in children and adolescents

by Dr Robbie Parker, PhD

A recent report (Booth et al 2006) showed that almost a quarter of NSW school students aged 5 to 16 years are overweight or obese, with boys aged 9 to 12 years having the highest rates. The rate of increase in overweight is speeding up for boys while in girls it appears to be slowing.

Of greater concern is the rate at which children are getting fatter. Trends show that between 1985 and 1997 the rate of overweight and obesity (combined) in children doubled (Booth et al 2003), a trend which is consistent with most other developed countries. The report also showed that a significant portion of children spend more than the recommended two hours per day in front of a TV or small screen. Other research has shown a strong association between this behaviour and increased risk of overweight and obesity in children.

‘Very significant’ health problems are associated with overweight and obesity among children and adolescents (Lobstein, Baur and Uauy 2004), including respiratory problems such as asthma and sleep apnoea, orthopaedic problems including knee and foot pain, gastrointestinal problems such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and gall stones, endocrine problems including insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome, and cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and dyslipidaemia. Tracking studies have shown that when obese young people move into early (lean) adulthood they still have elevated cardiovascular risk factors (Must et al 1992). Obese children are also likely to be subjected to negative stereotyping by their peers and have poorer psychological and social functioning.

The fitness industry in Australia is conscious of the dramatic increase in both prevalence and incidence of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents and the subsequent associated health risks. The provision of physical activity opportunities for children is one way in which the fitness industry can contribute to the longer term health of its young community members. With more than a billion dollars worth of modern fitness centre facilities established and more than 12,000 fitness professionals skilled and highly capable of providing a solution to childhood obesity, the fitness industry in Australia is well placed to do more than just talk about the problem.

In response to this paediatric obesity epidemic, Fitness NSW, in association with the Children’s Hospital Institute of Sports Medicine (CHISM), produced the Kids in Gyms Guidelines®. These guidelines outline the minimum requirements for commercial providers of physical activity programs for children and young adolescents (aged 5 to 16 years) and the qualifications required of staff in order to work with children. Implicit in these guidelines is the intention that fitness facilities and trainers will increase opportunities for children and young adolescents to participate in physical activity programs, and that more children will participate in such programs as a result. By default, these guidelines have been nationally adopted.

With the introduction of the revised Fitness Training Package in September 2004, Fitness Australia established a Children’s Instructor registration category for Certificate III qualified fitness professionals and a Children’s Trainer registration category for Certificate IV qualified fitness professionals.

Many children’s programs are now successfully being run by children-qualified personal trainers and commercial fitness centres. The FitKid program for example, employs around 50 children-qualified trainers and conducts physical activity programs in primary schools, and the Next Generation Club continues to run the Prodigy Program – a weight training-based program using pin-loaded equipment designed for children. Fitness First currently conducts a gym-based program designed for secondary school-aged adolescents which attracted over 25,000 children in 2005. A small selection of other successful programs is described in more detail in the following pages.

Children’s fitness is a growing market for all of us in the Australian fitness industry, but there is currently a major skills shortage in qualified staff available to run programs for children and adolescents. A number of national training providers offer the children’s training module SRFCHA001A Plan and Deliver Exercise for Children and Young Adolescents.

CHISM is one such provider which focuses solely on the Children’s Module. To download a copy of the Kids in Gyms Guidelines® visit www.chw.edu.au/prof/services/chism/news.htm.

For more information on becoming qualified to train this growing market, telephone 02 9845 0761.

Happy, healthy kids today are happy, healthy adults tomorrow

Simone Joseph, director of Children’s Health Pty Ltd which runs the Mighty Mites program, believes that the key to bringing down Australia’s worrying childhood overweight and obesity statistics is prevention rather than cure. Mighty Mites is a complete health and wellbeing program for pre-school children, which is based upon the idea that if we can encourage healthy habits in a child’s most critical learning years, we will be one step closer to developing a healthier society.

The Mighty Mites program is aimed primarily at three to five year olds and runs in child-care centres and pre-schools. Classes cover all aspects of children’s exercise and fitness as well as education on good nutrition and healthy habits in general. A dietitian is also involved in the scheme as the goal is to create a complete and well rounded program for the children. Even though the program has been developed using principles of exercise science, it is delivered in a fun and exciting way which really appeals to children.

Children’s Health Director, Stefanie O’Brien, says; ‘We’ve been bowled over by the kids as they take part in the classes. They love moving, love learning about food, their bodies and health issues and always want to know more about our little friend ‘Mighty Mite’.

They are even able to learn the basics of meditation and relaxation, every mums prayer answered!’ Stefanie adds, ‘As much belief as we have in the strength of the theory of the classes, it’s the enthusiasm of our instructors that really engages the children. The added bonus has been that it’s not just the kids that get a buzz out of the classes. Many of our instructors teach other classes at fitness centres and have personal training clients, but the impression I get is that the opportunity to teach these pre-schoolers is the highlight of their working week. I think they love being kids again!’

Mighty Mites is constantly looking for enthusiastic fitness professionals to join it’s team of committed instructors. If you are fun-loving, imaginative, vibrant and passionate about making a difference to a child’s life then contact Mighty Mites (minimum qualifications Certificate III Fitness). Alternatively, you can run your own business by securing a Mighty Mites licence for your area. Mighty Mites has developed an effective business model including a comprehensive operations manual and training modules for all stages of kids’ (aged 3 to 5) development.

For more information on becoming part of this growing brand e-mail employment@mightymites.com.au, call 02 9460 1100 or visit

Fitkid Australia builds fitness and self esteem

Fitkid Australia is an organisation devoted to encouraging children to lead healthier lifestyles through enjoyable, non-competitive exercise activities designed to increase fitness and build self-esteem. Over recent years there has been a rapid and accelerating decline in the level of activity amongst our children. This is a worldwide situation, and there is growing concern about the effect on their future health. There has never before been such an inactive generation of kids, and a mounting body of research is showing that the effect of this inactivity on their health, as well as their fitness, may be potentially disastrous.

To help counter this situation Fitkid Australia has been running a curriculum-based fitness program for over 7 years within Sydney’s primary schools. The program caters for years K to 6, covering a number of key elements of the current PDHPE (Personal Development, Health and Physical Education) curriculum. Fitkid’s aim is to promote fitness by enhancing children’s self-esteem and giving them the confidence to ‘have a go’! Part of the program involves performing fitness tests on the children at the end of each term’s program. The data collected from these assessments is available to teachers and parents in a certificate that is given to the kids after the completion of the program. Highly-trained instructors work with the children to provide enjoyable, stress-free activities which not only improve their fitness, but also instil the values associated with feeling good about themselves.

Long-term, the goal is to establish healthy and active lifestyle patterns in these children. Fitkid Australia has developed guidelines covering such elements as pre-screening all children before commencement of exercise and the training of instructors and teachers through CHISM (The Children’s Hospital Institute of Sports Medicine) to name a few. Managing director of Fitkids, Liz Wells, is also a senior lecturer with CHISM in Sydney and Hong Kong and all her instructors go through the NSW Government’s child protection checks and are Registered Fitness Leaders through Fitness Australia.

For more information on Fitkids, telephone 02 9545 6016 or e-mail wellsinc@bigpond.com.au

A magic mix of imagination, performance and movement to keep kids fighting fit !

A new fitness program for kids can see them paddling through white-water rapids, hacking through wild jungles, taking part in sword fighting duels, and riding the waves like a surfing pro – and all from the safety of a supervised group exercise experience. It’s called iKi Magic (pronounced ‘ick-ee’) and is a group fitness exercise designed especially for kids featuring fun and achievable exercise routines that get them fit without them even knowing it! The class features a range of conception, cardio-vascular and conditioning activities centred on the unique iKi Stick, a half metre long, lightweight moulded stick used as a playful simulation and dexterity device. The children are absorbed by a mix of music and movement, and intuitively come to terms with the exercise due to its highly tactile design. The benefits to children from participating in the iKi program range from the psychological and social to the educational and physical.

Research has shown that during the childhood stages of brain development scripted movements and activities can help whole brain learning which benefits children by increasing their ability to focus, improving their information processing capacity and encouraging greater self-esteem and resilience. iKi provides these scripted movement patterns and includes stretching and limbering exercises and whole body co-ordination. Participation in the program can provide the kind of activity, relaxation and sense of challenge that helps build a young person’s sense of confidence and resilience. iKi Magic provides opportunities for experienced and new fitness professionals to enter the children’s fitness market. The iKi Instructor training weekend and ensuing accreditation process can earn fitness professionals registered with Fitness NSW/Fitness Australia as a Fitness Trainer/Children Trainer 10 CECs. After accreditation a variety of flexible licensing arrangements are available.

For more information visit www.ikimagic.com or telephone Kim Macrae on 02 6881 6404.

Young hearts run free

Young Hearts is a children’s exercise and nutrition program specifically designed for the fitness industry and is the only program that educates children between the ages of 5 and 12 on the benefits of being more physical each week and making better food choices every day. In addition to playing games with equipment and moving to music, participants learn about food and where it comes from, how it affects them and how meals are prepared. Within weeks children are practicing better nutrition habits, drinking more water and less soft drink and are genuinely motivated to be more active. Before launching, pilot studies were conducted to prove the program’s benefits to children. For children, Young Hearts is a fun and motivating program that teaches them to set reasonable fitness and body change goals. They improve their coordination and balance skills, core strength and self esteem.

Young Hearts offers licensing opportunities to individual fitness professionals or fitness facilities to invest in the licensed program which provides them with a marketing portfolio, newsletter, facilitator equipment and term notes, first term’s program, achiever awards, membership cards and licensee folder. Those delivering the Young Hearts program must complete staff training which includes ‘working with children’ checks. Young Hearts allows licensees to offer a program within their local community that brings in new adult clientele through its family workshops and new marketing opportunities for schools and youth organisations. The program can be operated after school hours, at weekends or in school holidays and offers great income growth potential.

For further information telephone Louise Skeen at Aussie Fit Kids International on 02 4956 2144.

Growing champions with Little Giants Sports

The three driving mottos of Little Giants Sports are ‘Discover New Sports’, ‘Learn New Skills’ and ‘Meet New Friends’. Little Giants was developed and is run by qualified exercise physiologists who have created an innovative multi-sport program for children aged from 2 to 8. Additionally, the company conducts holiday sports clinics and sport-themed birthday parties. Through these activities Little Giants Sports aims to provide children with an active, healthy, fun and non-competitive  environment which helps them to develop socially and physically while giving them the self confidence to grow into champions.

In addition to getting kids active, Little Giants also aims to develop their social skills and self confidence through consistent encouragement, and to refine gross and fine motor skills through a wide range of games and activities. The kids learn various forms of locomotion and practice shapes and stretches to develop self awareness and learn about basic human anatomy. Each week the children learn about a different sport, its equipment, skills and correct techniques. Among the sports taught is Floorball, new to Australia, which is similar to hockey, but with more flexible rules and lighter, safer equipment.

All of the instructors have backgrounds in coaching and teaching and also have experience in competitive sports, making it a young and energetic team that provides a great role model for the children within the program.

The program also promotes good nutrition and healthy diet by providing a healthy snack and fruit juice within every class. All participants are also given a weekly award, an end of program prize and an assessment card which shows the parents the progress and improvement of their child within each sport.

For more information on the work of Little Giants, e-mail info@littlegiantssports.com.au, telephone Anna Hansen on 0433 153 783 or visit www.littlegiantssports.com.au


Robbie Parker, PhD MEd
Robbie is head of the Children’s Hospital Institute of Sports Medicine (CHISM) and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney. He is also an honorary associate of the School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences within the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney.

NETWORK • SUMMER 2006 • PP43-46