Health club operators can help to improve the health of children in their community. Here are 10 ways in which fitness facilities can make a difference.
- Partner with schools
Staff from American Family Fitness, Glen Allen, VA, visit local schools for their Family Fitness Nights. During these events, instructors lead karate, kickboxing or hip-hop classes, and the club employees design an obstacle course.
- Help at-risk kids
Many times, children become overweight or obese because their neighborhoods are too unsafe for them to exercise outdoors, and they don't have access to healthy food in grocery stores. To help underprivileged children in urban areas, American Family Fitness invested $500,000 to reopen a teen center for the Boys and Girls Club.
- Offer free seminars for community members
Club owners can offer courses on healthy cooking for families or invite group exercise instructors to teach a children's fitness class.
- Bridge the gap
Often, children who don't participate in team sports can get swept under the rug, says Eme Cole, co-owner of Jump Ahead Academy in Chicago. For the past year and a half, she has worked with 200 children using her facility's specialized fitness equipment and offering children's group exercise classes.
- Provide age-appropriate programming
When American Family Fitness opened a new location in Glen Allen, VA, the club owners created special programming, an exergaming room and exercise studios for children ages 9 to 14, says general manager Jill Lakey. Since the tweens often don't enjoy working out alongside the younger children, the club also set aside a separate Kid Zone for children 8 and under.
- Take physical education classes on the road
Michael Heim, the fitness manager for Elmwood Fitness Center, created a $300,000 mobile fitness unit a year and a half ago. Each semester, the New Orleans health club partners with four public schools. Twice a week for 12 weeks, students climb aboard the 50-foot long, 8-foot wide trailer and work out on nine pieces of child-sized exercise equipment. Last semester, 260 students completed the program, and this semester, Heim expects 500 kids to work out in the mobile fitness unit.
- Serve as a destination for field trips
Many schools can't afford to invest in a full line of cardiovascular and strength training equipment. To help the students in these schools, some fitness facility owners invite local students to work out at their facilities. They give the students a day pass so they can invite their parents to join them on their next visit.
- Train kids how to work out on the fitness floor
American Family Fitness offers a FitKids program for children ages 9 and older. Children meet with a personal trainer, receive an equipment orientation and then take a test. If they pass the test, they then are awarded with a badge and allowed to work out on the fitness floor with their parents.
- Serve as an advocate for policy change
Last year, American Family Fitness visited the Virginia state legislature to support HB 242, a bill that mandated physical education for at least 30 minutes for grades K-12.
- Get your voice heard
Fitness professionals with school-aged children can volunteer for the local PTA, campaign for more physical education in their kids' schools, and help to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity and sound nutrition for children.
Read the main article, Grading Scale, for information on the United States' uphill climb in the battle against childhood obesity and how some states are taking action.