Is child gym membership the answer to keeping children more active?

Almost everybody who watches the news and reads the newspapers will be aware of the obesity crisis we are now facing in this country and childhood obesity seems to be at the centre of the problem. Every month we publish articles in our newsletters relating to the growing rates of obesity in young people and the health problems this is causing them, such as diabetes and heart problems.

Recently Human Kinetics received an email from a reader of one of our newsletters, highlighting an issue, which we thought deserved further investigation. In the email our reader pointed out the following
“I took my daughter (who is 13 years of age) down to the local gym. I was surprised to be told for health and safety reasons that she was too young to use the equipment. Bearing in mind all the exposure to recent events in childhood obesity, we are looking at the introduction of habit forming at a young age particularly in health related fitness. I myself ran an under-sixteen gym club ten years ago at a private health club, supervising and producing appropriate programmes for the young adults. For those who participated found it very enjoyable, safe and certainly not detrimental to their well being.”

We spoke to Chris Hudson, the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Health at Leeds Metropolitan University. Chris believes that recreation providers must adapt to appeal to young people, and their changing needs.

He stated: “The long-term declining involvement of young people in active recreation and sport we have seen, along with the increase in obesity and diabetes in young people, means sport and recreation providers must adapt in order to appeal to youngsters – anything that can get them more active is welcome.

He continued “On a personal level my view is that children should be encouraged to be active in a more informal and interactive way than gym training, but professionally, if there is demand from youngsters to be active in this setting, then the industry needs to respond. After all, these could be their members of the future.”

However, the issues surrounding child gym memberships are far more concerned with health and safety matters such as litigation and untrained or inexperienced staff. After speaking to Glen Beaumont, Health and Safety Officer at the Association for PE (AfPE), who does not wish to discourage young adults from using specialised fitness training equipment, we discovered some of the health and safety precautions that need to be in place:

  • The equipment itself in terms of its size and manageability should be compatible with the stature and physique of the children involved,
  • Light loadings should be used – particularly with pre-pubescent children – with the emphasis upon efficient and safe technique rather than strength building,
  • The activity should embrace wider learning outcomes, leading children towards a better understanding of the components of physical fitness,
  • Appropriately qualified and experienced staff should always directly supervise the activity.
  • Many gyms, such as Esporta and Virgin Active, have already cashed in on the growing demand for child membership, but not everyone believes this is the best way to keep children active and the Fitness Industry Association (FIA) express gratitude to those gyms that refuse membership for health and safety reasons.

    Andree Deane, CEO of the Fitness Industry Association said: “Encouraging more children to be more active, more often is a priority for the Government, teachers, health and fitness professionals (such as FIA members) and of course parents. It is a cornerstone of the FIA, which is why we developed and are running two very successful government funded activity programmes for school children.

    However, if individual gyms feel that they can not provide the right environment for children (for health and safety reasons, as well as because they do not believe that they have the right resources in place), then we applaud the fact that they chose to behave responsibly and, in doing so, forgo income rather then put a child at risk.”

    Although it seems that those gyms who refuse children membership may not be encouraging children to keep active, it appears that their reasons are warranted and their interests lie with the safety of participants.
    So what do you think? If you have an opinion on this issue or suggestions for future articles, please leave a comment.


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