News / USA

US Toddlers Get Jumpstart on Fitness

As child obesity grows in US, activity programs for the very young are also on the rise

Catherine Byrne and her daughter Bridget, 3, attend a mobile gym class at an elementary school gymnasium in the Washington suburbs.
Catherine Byrne and her daughter Bridget, 3, attend a mobile gym class at an elementary school gymnasium in the Washington suburbs.
June Soh

As she throws a ball through a hoop in her weekly fitness class, Bridget might not know she is getting a workout. But her mother, Catherine Byrne, does. She wants her three-year-old to get an early start on staying fit.

“Because I did not. I want her to be fit her whole life," she says. "I want it to be part of her everyday life and not something that she has to catch up later.”

Childhood obesity in America has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to government statistics, and today nearly one in three youngsters are overweight or obese. As parents grow concerned, fitness programs for babies and toddlers are on the rise. These programs try to foster a lifetime love of fitness by making exercise fun.

Bridget's class, held at an elementary school gymnasium in the Washington suburbs, is called FunFit. It's a mobile gym that caters to children ages one to 13.

Celia Kibler, the co-founder of FunFit, says it provides an opportunity for children to be physically active and have fun in a safe environment.

“We utilize the recreation departments, schools, daycares, childcare centers to really reach out to the population of kids, as many kids and parents as possible," she says. "We like to incorporate families together so that everybody learns to exercise together.”

Experts say the lack of physical activity is one of the major contributors to the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Young Americans - ages eight to 18 - spend more than seven and a half hours a day with entertainment media such as television, video games, computers or other electronic devices, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit focusing on major health care issues.

Jeff Young doesn't want his daughter Evelyn, now 22 months old, to end up like that, so he brings her to the class.

“I think this program will absolutely help keep her active and help get her out of in front of a screen of some sort, be it a TV or computer or iPhones now, you have screens all over the place.”

Kibler says FunFit offers programs in more locations each year, but still has a waiting list. My Gym, a children's fitness center, is also expanding. There are 150 locations in the U.S. and about 60 in 25 other countries.

My Gym, a children’s fitness center, has 150 locations in the U.S. and about 60 in 25 other countries.
My Gym, a children’s fitness center, has 150 locations in the U.S. and about 60 in 25 other countries.

“Our gym in Potomac has been in existence for about 11 years, and we opened up this gym about eight months ago in Bethesda," says Mandy Lemar, who owns two My Gym franchises outside Washington. "There is definitely demand in this area for this type of program.”

The program is designed to help children learn other skills, too.

“The children are working on their socialization skills, their team work, their listening skills," says Lemar. "There are so many different things they are learning here at the same time that they are using their bodies and having fun working out.”

Combining age-appropriate exercise with fun activities can be remarkably beneficial to children, according to Karen McDonnell, a public health professor at George Washington University.

“As long as the places are safe and they are fun, and there is a trained facilitator who can help work with parents and children," she says, "then it can provide great benefit to the developing child, physically, cognitively, socially.”

The parents of these little exercisers say they hope these first steps will lead to a lifetime of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs