Here’s the bad news. This is thought to be the first generation of children with a shorter lifespan than their parents’. Adult Onset Diabetes has been renamed Type 2 Diabetes because it’s suddenly showing up in younger and younger people – American children born in 2000 face a 1-in-3 chance of developing it. Forty percent of children ages 5 to 8 show at least one heart disease risk factor, including hypertension and obesity, which among children has doubled over the past two decades. And the first signs of arteriosclerosis are appearing as young as age 5 – something never before seen in anyone under the age of 30.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to turn things around. We just have to make sure our kids are physically active! Following are some tips for making that happen:

  • Turn off the TV! Research shows children are being electronically entertained an average of five to six hours a week. Without electronics, they’ll have to find other ways to keep themselves entertained.
  • Encourage your children to engage in active play. Research has demonstrated that the most active children are those whose parents have encouraged them to be active.
  • Play with your children! Blow bubbles for them to chase, play tag and hide-and-seek, put on an up-tempo song and boogie in the living room, or break out the pots and pans and hold a parade around the house!
  • Serve as a role model, taking part in physical activity yourself – cheerfully!
  • Take the children to parks, playgrounds, or beaches; on hikes, bowling, or skating during vacations and weekends.
  • Don’t send the wrong message about physical activity by endlessly circling the parking lot for the spot closest to the door. Instead, make a game out of parking as far as possible from the door and finding different ways to get to it (walking backward, tiptoeing, jogging, or skipping).
  • When it’s time for gift giving, select items like hula-hoops; balls in a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures; roller skates; or a wading pool or swing set. When shopping for games, Twister has more to offer than a board game. And CDs with lively music are a better choice than movie videos.
  • Don’t expect organized sports to take care of your child’s physical activity needs. There’s more waiting than moving in most structured, adult-directed games.

    Get your kids active – early and often. You’ll sleep better, knowing you’ve had a hand in keeping them healthy. And guess what? They’ll sleep better, too!

    Rae Pica is a children’s physical activity specialist and the author of A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity, and Free Time Create a Successful Child (Marlowe & Co., 2006) and Great Games for Young Children (Gryphon House, 2006). She has shared her expertise with such clients as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Centers for Disease Control, Gymboree Play & Music, and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. You can visit Rae at