Fighting the Half Pint Holiday Bulge

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the new year approaches, families everywhere are looking to an indulgent season of holiday parties, sweets and goodies. Adults all around the country are already planning their New Year's resolutions to lose the extra weight, but what about our kids? How are we addressing the battle of the holiday bulge in their lives?

In a country where nearly 20% of our kids are already obese and more than 30% are overweight, popular fear still exists that strength training, an integral component of weight loss and metabolic conditioning programs, may actually be harmful to their health. Thanks to a number of recent studies we are now learning that just isn't the case.

Traditional belief holds that lifting weights and intense exercise can potentially hurt children or even stunt their growth. "That just isn't the case at all," says the National Strenght & Conditioning Associations's Hawai'i State Director, Jt Netterville. "As it turns out, childhood is the most benificial time to start exercising and specifically weight training."

Multiple studies in recent years have looked at the question of just how risky strength training is for children. As it turns out the risk isn't in the weight room at all. A recent paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that covered one full year of youth activity found that American football lead the pack with an injury rate of 4.36 injuries per 1,000 kids. Whereas baseball and soft ball were the safest sports at about 1 injury per 1000 kids, weightlifting came in at a mere .0120 injury rate. Taking that a step further, The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses youth strength training as a way to improve sports performance and rehabilitate injuries that may have been sustained in other athletic persuits.

"Parents have been fed a steady message about weight training damaging kids growth plates and straining muscles that are too young for exercise. There is no scientific data to date that indicates strength training is more risky to a child's development than any other sport they play already. Children under the age of 12 actually have stronger, more resiliant growth cartilidge than 18 year olds do. So in fact, a 10 year old getting into strength training has less risk and potentially more to gain than an 18 year old linebacker in the weightroom," says Jt.

A 2006 study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine shows that not only are weight bearing activities, such as strength training, essential to normal bone formation but they have no detrimental impact what so ever on linear growth. Jt points out that "In controlled studies, not only have we found that weight training isn't harmful to your child's bones and growth, but that children who train actually show significantly higher levels of bone mineral density and mineral content than kids who don't. It's the same thing as when we age and use exercise to combat osteoperosis. The difference is that instead of fighting bone loss later in life, we're setting up our kids to have healthier bones from the very beginning. On top of that you also have the huge amount of mental focus and disciplin that comes with a structured weight training program. Your kids get to keep that the rest of their life."

So, when planning your own strategy to resist putting on those holiday pounds, don't forget that your kids have just as much to gain from hitting the gym as you do. Ke in mind there are a few key things to look out for when getting your children involved in an exercise program.

1. Make sure that anyone working with or providing workouts for your children has education and experience specific to children. Jt points out, "Exercises and routines that Mom and Dad use may or may not be appropriate for kids. Every adolescent and preadolescent program must take into account where your child is starting from. You wouldn't toss a new swimmer straight into the deep end of the pool. The same goes for the weight room."

2. Make sure your children are supervised at all times. Studys now show that earlier fears about weight training injuries in children largely stemmed from inapropriate usage of equipment and improper technique by kids working without adult supervison. "This can be a great bonding time. Why not make it a family event? Get the kids together with a qualified fitness professional and put together a program that is suitable for everyone. That way the whole family stays motivated and you start creating all these positive and supportive associations around keeping up a healthy lifestyle," Jt suggests.

3. Any training should focus on personal improvement rather than interpsonal competition. Jt points out "At that age, competiton is great on the baseball diamond, but when kids are lifting they need to focus on performance against their own previous numbers." When you're working with young kids, it's too easy for them to look around at what others are doing, get overly excited and bite off more than they can chew. The key here is getting them into a safe, progresive routine that steadily builds them up. Again, they're still new to this. You want to help them to learn responsible healthy habits about working out, not to go in and start doing things that could be potentially harmful regardles of age. Keep the focus on self improvement and be supportive of the progress they make!"

As the holiday season presses in with it's sugarplum fairys and christmas tree cookies, don't forget the little ones. This can be the perfect season to instill strong healthful habits in children. "Remember, when you get your kids more involved in their physical health early on, that stays more of a priority for them throughout their lives," says Jt.

For more information on exercise programs for adolescents and preadolescents you can visit the National Strength & Conditioning conditioning website at, the American Academy of Pediatrics at or contact Jt at

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