How Personal Trainers Are Helping UAE Parents With Obesity Issues In Children
In this question and answer session professional Dubai based personal trainer Kieran addresses the issue many parents face relating to the increasing problem of childhood obesity in the UAE.
One of the biggest health concerns among children in the UAE relates to ‘Obesity’. Do you think exercise is a key factor when it comes to reversing and even preventing childhood obesity
Exercise definitely has a huge role in mitigating childhood obesity and the continuity of this obesity from childhood through to adulthood. We see a change in children’s play activity (with a trend moving from outdoor sports and active play, to indoor and sedentary play), along with that we also see parents of children not motivating their child to try different physically active sports and play activities. Depending on the country we also are seeing less play time and physical activity at school (although UAE is better than some countries, e.g. America) as they prioritize these activities less. Schools should bring a well-rounded approach to teaching children, but fierce competition revolving around grades has lead too much emphasis on specific academic studies only. The school (and before-hand in nursery and day-care) should start to implement physical activity to help the children habituate their active behaviour from a young age.
Do you receive requests from parents in the UAE for personal trainers for children? If so what age range are the children and what kind of personal training programme for kids do you suggest?
Yes we do occasionally get requests for children, however these are normally sport specific (e.g. cricket ability or self-defence). Parents of obese children, from our experience, tend to not be interested in helping their child lose the weight until it becomes a problem. Anecdotally, children are either encouraged from a young age or not at all, to engage in physical activity. This means that the positive influence of the parents either mitigates excessive fat gain early on, or they ignore it until it becomes a problem.
The type of programme we suggest depend entirely on the child’s interests and personality. The most important thing is that the child enjoys the physical activity and therefore is conditioned to want to carry this on through life, if you can inspire the child to want to be healthier and participate in healthy behaviours- that is the main goal.
The activities we choose for these kids have several goals- we want to increase their heart rate and get them working. However we want to make it feel like they aren’t working out but instead are having hard and active play. We also use tasks that cause them to have to work their balance and agility, it is predicted that the majority of a person’s potential for balance and agility is achieved by ~9 years old, so therefore we choose tasks that stimulate their brain and their body to work together in unusual ways (e.g. gymnastics).
In your professional opinion, at what age would you recommend children begin to exercise regularly?
Children should be encouraged by their parents and caregivers to be active from as early on as possible, both physically and mentally. I prefer not to use the word ‘exercise’ for children, because we don’t want it to seem like a chore, but they should be physically active daily as part of their play and learning.
Before even being able to walk you should stimulate the child’s mind with lots of different stimuli (e.g. taking them out to the park in the pram so they can look around). Once they start to gain some motor skills you can encourage them to move a little bit in the crib (e.g. moving their legs and hands gently so they can start to learn that their body is actually attached to their brain). Once they can start to crawl, stand and walk, then you should encourage them when they do these activities, and provide attention and support while they are progressing through these skills. From there they should start participating in active play with others and perhaps even toddlers ‘sports’ (e.g. toddlers dancing)- this teaches them to enjoy being physically active, stimulates their brains and improves their social skills.
What kinds of exercise should children in the UAE be doing and how much, how often?
Depending on their age children should spend different amounts of time exercising. Children should be physically active every day in some way (usually by active play). From the time they start school they should start regularly engaging in sport/exercise with their peers under supervision.
In your experience are there any initiatives that would work in terms of encouraging school-age pupils to take to exercise? For example, encouraging every child walk to school? Or what about a cycle to school initiative? Would this be a cheap and simple way of tackling the obesity epidemic?
I believe that the intervention should be aimed towards the parents and caregivers of the children. The parents and caregivers should be encouraging their children to be physically active from a very young age, so that by the time they start school they are already conditioned to play and participate in active ways- that way it won’t feel like a chore but just the norm. Nurseries and day care should also aim to increase physical activity for the students from a young age.
Walking and biking to school would only work for a small minority of the students (depending on the location of their home, and ability of parents/caregivers to supervise) and would only be viable during cooler months of the year for the child’s safety.
Do you think it would make sense that children should have easy access to exercise at the place where they spend much of their time, at their school? Are there enough measures in place - such as enough PE instructors, enough gym classes, enough after-school activity clubs etc, or is there room for improvement?
I think there can always be more opportunities for children to engage in physical activity. Providing many options of exciting different sports/activities for children to try would mean the child is much more likely to find something they are passionate about doing. For example although football is the most popular sport in the World, it doesn’t mean that every child will like it, some may like dancing and some rock climbing- it’s about finding the right fit for the child. School is definitely the place where it is easiest to organise this, and it also means that the children benefit from the social aspect.
How important is a diet/nutrition plan with any exercise routine for an overweight/obese child? Do you also provide diet plans when formulating exercise regimes for children in the UAE?
Similarly to how I don’t like the word ‘exercise’ for children, I also don’t like the words ‘diet plans’ from children. Food is very important for children, and it has been shown that obesity in childhood is a good predictor of obesity as an adult. From a young age toddlers and children should be encouraged to eat healthy foods and avoid unhealthy foods. Children should be encouraged to try all sorts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc. and make this a staple in their food consumption (of course being conscious of allergens). Along with that unhealthy and psychologically addictive foods should be avoided from a young age, as if they get in the habit and addicted to these, then it is much harder to reverse it.
The foods to avoid are mainly high sugar and heavily processed foods. Then as children grow up it should be encouraged to eat home-cooked food rather than take-out and packaged foods- this culture can be passed on from generation to generation, but is slowly going away with families spending less and less time preparing food each day.
Professional Personal Trainer In Dubai - Kieran Francis
Dubai personal trainer Kieran Francis has experience in many areas of personal training including boxing, general fitness for male and female clients, kick boxing, senior fitness training, weight loss, nutrition and more..
You can view Kieran’s full Dubai personal trainer profile by clicking the link below.