According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Families, educators and after school programs have a stake in effecting meaningful change. Quality after school interventions, in particular, are valuable ways to positively impact children's health.

Regular physical activity gives youth more energy, helps them focus and supports self-discipline. But, programs must do much more than simply "keep them moving" in order to capture each student's motivation to be a lifelong mover. We must appeal to their desire to improve and succeed.

I once asked a group of second graders, "Who here plays a sport?" I was shocked when they all raised their hands! I asked what sports they played, and they responded with activities such as bike riding, freeze tag and jump rope, along with sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer. I realized that we have to consider the children's perspective in promoting physical activity. When we appeal to students' desire to improve in their chosen activities, we capture their attention in a way that simply exercising or kicking a ball around cannot.

So, how can we encourage physical activity? We need to focus on three components:

  • Awareness. Make students aware of all the activities that are available to them, and encourage activities that promote healthy competition and self-improvement.
  • Choices. Empower them to choose meaningful and challenging physical activities.
  • Reflection. Help them to reflect and identify areas where they would like to improve, such as running faster, jumping higher and throwing farther.

This is how we bend the trend and impact youth long after their participation in our programs. Time is critical - we can waste it, spend it or invest it. Will we invest in the best for our youth? Let's go!