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How to jump-start your kids.

Before I became a parent, I swore no child of mine would consume fast food or watch junk television. Today I blush to confess that my 19-month-old daughter craves chicken nuggets and my 4 1/2-year-old son's favorite TV program is "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

So I'm intimately acquainted with the temptations that are causing more and more American kids to be overweight and underfit. The lure of video games, computers, and television, coupled with fatty foods and sugar-laced drinks, is creating a generation of children whose health is at risk. The statistics are alarming:

* Younger children weigh more and have more body fat than children the same age did 20 years ago.

* Fifty-five percent of girls can't do even one chin-up.

* Most startling is that children today are displaying heart risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, commonly associated with middle-aged adults.

"Childhood obesity is, at minimum, a major public health problem," writes Debra Giel, an assistant editor of Physician and Sports Medicine, in a recent issue on youth fitness. Her recommendation: "Lifestyle changes [i.e., regular physical activity and a healthful diet] during childhood to prevent the development of obesity and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease."

Such changes aren't always easy, as any parent who has tried to turn off the Tv during "She-Ra, Princess of Power" will tell you. Even in summer, when homework is nil, air-conditioned arcades often win out over playgrounds.

The secret to getting kids moving, says former teacher and marathon runner Don Kardong, is to "be active yourself. If you sit around and watch TV a lot, it's hard to convince your kids to do differently."

This fact is confirmed by the U.S. Public Health Service, which found that the least-fit kids were those who watch more television, have less active parents, and participate less in community activities.

"Find ways for your family to enjoy each other while you get in shape," says Kardong, a father of two and co-author of a running guide for children and their parents. "Swimming, walking, biking, and badminton are all things the whole family can do together. Even if your kids are so small they've got to ride in a stroller, take them along. They'll get used to seeing you exercise and learn to view fitness as a normal part of life."

Lifetime fitness is the goal, say experts, who urge parent to think of exercise as a habit that lasts forever. To get kids moving, try these ideas:

* Choose active toys. Pogo sticks; jump ropes; roller skates; bikes; Frisbees; balls; and swing sets with rings, ropes, and pull-up bars will help develop kids' muscles and aerobic capacity.

* Combine exercise with social time. Walk with your kids before or after dinner and talk about the day.

* Move at the pace of the slowest in your group. The surest way to discourage kids from keeping up is to leave them behind or push them beyond their ability.

* Focus on fun. Encourage activity for its own sake, not for winning. Let your children set their own goals.

* Seek advice of a professional if your child is interested in serious training for a specific sport. Proper instruction will help your child learn to move properly and avoid injury.

* Never urge a child to compete, but if he or she is old enough and skilled enough to decide to compete, be supportive. Cheer your children's efforts; be proud of their successes and sympathetic to their failures.

* Remember that children are more susceptible to heat stroke than adults. During the summer, exercise during the cooler parts of the day, in the water, or indoors.

* Find ways for kids to enjoy themselves while getting in shape. Let them run under the sprinkler, dance to music, play freeze-tag, or join a program at a recreation center.

* Take your kids to a school track and let them walk or run around it with you. Bring a tricycle or toys for younger kids so they can play in the center while you run.

* Set aside 20 minutes a day for a family workout with varied exercises, and chart everyone's progress.

If you've found a kid-moving strategy I've missed, please write. Remember, I'm trying to tame the TV monster too.

The author is a beautiful red-haired freelance health-and-fitness writer who traveled with Arnold's entourage on his tour of the Midwest. Married to a cardiologist, she lives in North Carolina. Her column, "Bodyworks," appears regularly in the Washington Post.
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Author:Krucoff, Carol
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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