The rate of childhood obesity in America has almost doubled over the past 20 years — and these rates have risen even higher during the Covid-19 pandemic. While kids of all sizes should be taught to love themselves and their bodies, obesity in kids is concerning because it can cause serious health problems such as a predisposition for diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Research also shows that obesity can not only seriously affect kids' physical health, but also negatively impact their emotional well-being and self-esteem.
A lot of the childhood obesity uptick can be chalked up to changes in kids' diets. They’re eating more highly processed foods, especially ready-to-heat meals and sweet snacks. There's also the increasing lure of sedentary activities, and it probably comes as no surprise that today's kids get twice as much screen time as they did 20 years ago.
But one important, often-neglected reason we've been seeing an increase in childhood obesity is that kids just aren't moving enough. As much as 80% of adolescents globally aren't physically active enough, according to the World Health Organization — and that's also true for kids who aren't obese or overweight. Most kids simply aren't getting nearly enough exercise.
How Can We Get Kids Moving More?
There are a bunch of ways to combat this issue, and team sports is usually the first one that comes to mind. But although some kids jump at the chance to sign up for soccer or volleyball, that simply doesn't work for others. Some kids prefer to play video games instead.
Some older parenting styles would lead you to believe that kids need to be signed up for team sports against their will, and they'll power through it. But that's actually not a great idea, according to pediatrician Jeremy Daigle, MD, who believes that the best way to get kids moving is to offer them something that genuinely works for them.
"What’s important in helping kids learn how to enjoy physical fitness is simply talking to the child," Daigle says. "When children have some sort of control and are part of the conversation of what physical activity they’ll participate in, they’re more likely to actually do the activity."
One smart solution: Find a qualified personal trainer for kids. We fully acknowledge that on the outset, personal training for kids may sound like something that only the 1% might be able to afford or justify, but the truth is, plenty of regular kids can learn to enjoy being active with a personal trainer. And the service doesn't actually have to cost an arm and a leg.
"Kids can definitely benefit from a personal trainer," says NASM-certified personal trainer and kinesiologist Mallory Branson, who trains clients using Kickoff. "While it's imperative for kids to get out to run and play, it can also be helpful to have a structured fitness routine, depending on age. Trainers can offer education and help children of all ages build healthy habits and a positive self-image."
What’s a Personal Trainer for Kids?
As you might imagine, what a personal trainer does for kids in any given session varies significantly based on their age group. "Different children have different levels of understanding," says Dr. Daigle. "The youngest I would probably recommend is around ages 4–5. Kids [at this age] can give back-and-forth feedback and express to an adult if they aren’t feeling well enough or had an injury when working with a trainer."
Coach Branson works with kids, and says she loves the experience. "I have three small children: ages almost 7, 4, and 2 months," she says. "They have different abilities at these ages, but it's so fun to share fitness with them. For ages seven and under, everything should be play-based — although my oldest likes bodyweight exercises as well."
Branson says that very young kids can benefit from group classes centered around simple games and play, but older kids can engage in personal training more readily. "By ages 7–10, kids have more coordination and proprioception," she says, referring to the body's ability to sense movement, action, and location. Kids of this age can therefore start participating in more structured bodyweight and light weight lifting exercises, with a focus on game-play and exploring, rather than structured workouts.
“Ages 11 and up can begin more focused training specific to their sport or general fitness building,” continues Branson. “Weight lifting is appropriate for this age group, but it’s important that the kids be supervised and work within their limits with proper form."
By the teenage years, a personal trainer can be incredibly beneficial to kids — and make a huge difference in their emotional state, too. "I've worked with a lot of teens, which I find to be one of the most rewarding age groups," says Branson. "Fitness can have a huge impact on self-esteem, and that happens tenfold in the teen years. I love the way teens become more confident as they see what they are physically capable of."
Personal training can be a great way to impact kids' futures: Evidence suggests that kids who are sedentary are far more likely to become adults who are sedentary. Exercise training encourages beneficial changes in fat and lean body mass in both kids and adolescents, and improves cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. Although the CDC recommends that children over age 6 get an hour of exercise daily (and that's definitely a great goal), studies show that even working out for just 30 minutes a day has been shown to benefit kids who are obese.
Online vs. In-Person Training
If you're considering personal training for kids, there are several factors to consider, including whether online or in-person personal training would suit your kid best. According to Coach Branson, there are benefits and drawbacks to each.
"There are clear benefits for both in-person and online personal training. I think it highly depends on the age of the child to determine which one is more appropriate," says Branson. "Younger children, maybe 10 and under, would do well with online training if they have a parent or other adult participating with them, but I think young kids need a more interactive experience overall, and might respond better to in-person training."
Older kids might find online training fun and engaging, since it's accessible from those all-too-beloved smartphones and tablets. "Adults and teens alike love the convenience of having a 'trainer in your pocket,' so to speak — someone to be there constantly supporting your health goals and keeping you on track," says Branson.
"This can be helpful for teens who may need reminding or extra support to keep them active. With so many other distractions to serve as excuses not to get that run in or hit the gym, having that daily accountability via text and ability to track workouts, nutrition, and daily habits [through an app like Kickoff] makes all the difference,” says Branson. “Online training is super convenient and workouts can be done anywhere, with any equipment."
So while we've seen that there are definite pros to online personal training, there are also a couple of cons, according to Branson. "The obvious drawback is that being online limits our ability to check our clients' form from all angles. While this can be remedied by using clear instructions on a video workout with the client, it's never quite the same as in-person. And some gym-goers also enjoy the social aspect of in-person training."
How to Find the Best Personal Trainer for Kids
"When hiring a trainer, I would recommend one who has experience working with kids in the same age group as your kids," says Branson. "You want a trainer who will lead your child and encourage them, all while having fun and creating a positive environment. It's a good idea to have your child meet the trainer before purchasing sessions to determine if they are a good fit."
One last note: Kickoff syncs with Apple watch and Strava to make the experience smoother and make it more fun for kids (and grown-ups) to hit their goals.
"I worked as an in-person trainer for 12 years before taking the leap into the online training world, and I was honestly surprised at how effective online training is compared to in-person," says Branson. So if online training seems like a fit for your kid, consider Kickoff as a potential match.