With all of the emerging national health initiatives focused on fighting childhood obesity, you’d expect obesity rates to be declining, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

One in five children ages 6 to 19 is obese in the U.S., according to the CDC. What’s even more disturbing is that 26 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are overweight and 15 percent are obese in the U.S. — one of the wealthiest countries in the world but one of the worst for child health among developed countries.

It’s no mystery that being overweight can lead to lifelong health problems including diabetes and heart disease. Even before they hit drinking age, 208,000 Americans under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes

Lack of exercise is partly to blame. Physical exercise is a vital part of a child's development, and it's up to parents to make sure their child is getting a balanced amount of exercise every day and not sitting down for long periods of time. By encouraging them to move and by monitoring daily exercise, parents can help their kids live a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight. Here are a few tips on how to motivate kids to exercise:

Get Riding

kids bike riding

Learning how to ride a bike is a rite of passage for little ones. It depends on the child, but usually they can start learning how to ride a proper bike at the age of 3 if they start practicing earlier on a balance bike. Some will catch on rather quickly while others may be a little more reluctant because it can seem scary. You have to be patient and positive to teach a child how to ride a bike. Once they experience the freedom of two wheels and the wind through their hair, you probably won’t get them to hop off!

Bike riding is a great form of exercise for kids to do with their friends or with family. Going on family bike rides gets everyone outside to do a mutually enjoyable activity. For parents, you can talk about the health benefits of riding a bike and also teach kids about the rules of the road, the importance of wearing a helmet, and how to negotiate traffic.

Lastly, bike riding is good not only for physical health, but for developing self-confidence, which contributes to good mental health. A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body. Working on both is a lifetime commitment.

Join a Sports Team

girls softball team

Some kids can’t wait to join a local sports program, maybe because their heroes play, their friends do, or maybe their parents did growing up. Others might need a little more encouragement to try something new. Even if you have to shop around, there’s usually a sport out there for every kid to try.

Joining a sports team helps children develop coordination, strength and physical fitness. Kids who play team sports are less likely to be obese than sedentary students. DatalysCenter estimates that if all adolescents played on two or more sports teams per year, the prevalence of obesity would decrease by 26 percent.

Not everyone wants to join a team sport, like basketball, football or volleyball, but there are team sports that are more solitary, like swimming and track, where you are focusing on your personal performance, yet you’re still contributing to a team setting. It may take some time to figure out what your child truly enjoys doing.

Try a Dance Class


If your child loves busting out dance moves on the living room floor or watching musicals, maybe you have a dancer on your hands. If your child’s personality seems like a good fit for a dance class or camp, it would probably delight them to give it a try. 

A camp may help you and them determine if dance is something he or she would like to pursue as part of their regular routine throughout the year. Dance is a form of art, but depending on the type of dance they choose, it’s also aerobic and athletic.

Just make sure the type of dance provides the one hour of physical activity a day that’s recommended by the CDC. Some classes require a lot of standing around waiting for instruction and aren’t necessarily meeting the recommended cardio requirement for children.

Decorate in an Inspiring Way


Does your child’s bedroom reflect their personal interests? If your kid loves dance, horseback riding, football (or anything active), you could help them design a sports-themed bedroom based on the positive attributes of their passion.

Seeing a framed photograph or inspirational quote from their favorite player on the wall is a good reminder of what they admire in that person, physically and mentally. It doesn’t matter what the sport is or whether the players are famous. Maybe there are photos of themselves and their friends doing what they love. Sometimes those visual reminders help keep us on track with our goals. 

Ensuring good health for your child starts with you. They’re looking to you for guidance, mimicking your habits and noticing if you’re keeping an eye on your weight, whether you realize it or not. If they see you having fun and staying physically active, they are more likely to do the same now and into their adult years.