We all know children are increasingly facing the need to diet and follow weight loss programs. Like their parents, young people are taking in too many calories and failing to get as much exercise as they require for optimum health. The proof is in the pudding, as they saying goes.

While North American children lead the way in packing on the poundage, they are hardly alone. A recent study in England by the government-backed National Child Measurement Programme found that, at the time they enter primary school, about 23 per cent of British children are either overweight or obese. By the time these children complete primary school, nearly 32 per cent are overweight or obese.

Interestingly, this weight gain among children is occurring even though the schools are significantly increasing the average amount of exercise time available per week during classroom hours. In 2002, less than 25 per cent of British students aged five to 16 received two hours of exercise weekly. Now, following a ramping up of the school exercise program, the figure has risen to about 85 per cent.

What the heck ate the kids doing?

This raises the question — what the heck are the kids doing? As it turns out, not all of them use the time available to them to work up a sweat. The issue, according to the Guardian, is one of motivation. Kids who aren’t into sports and exercise don’t feel inspired to get active simply because somebody tells them to.

A study by researchers at the State University of New York at Albany looked into the motivations of middle school students for pursuing, or not, regular exercise. They found that one of the factors influencing motivation was ability. Those who felt they weren’t skilled at sports were less likely to be motivated by personal enjoyment than those who were more athletic.

Clearly, parents of children who are not athletically inclined have an additional challenge on their hands in keeping them active and their weight down. One solution is to look for ways to incorporate exercise and physical activity into family life. Try buying bikes for mom, dad and the children and going on regular family excursions. Another tactic is to turn trips to the store for things like groceries into occasions for family walks. Walking to school, rather than catching a ride, is also good form exercise and helps develop healthy habits.

Encouraging abilities builds confidence

Every child has an aptitude for some form of sports or physical exercise. Encouraging these abilities will build confidence that could lead to self-generated motivation. Look for opportunities to foster positive feelings about exercise. You never know: a positive attitude about one form of exercise could lead to a wider interest in being active and staying fit.

For children that have put on weight and won’t engage meaningfully in exercise, formal dieting and weight loss efforts could be required. But it would be much better if the child were to develop a personal interest in physical activity, and then keep the weight off through healthy lifestyle choices.