Last week I discussed multiple reasons why there has been a drastic decline in the multi-sport athlete. This article is going to try and highlight some solutions to this problem. Our goal as community should be for the next generation of kids to grow up strong and healthy. Additionally, I believe solving the decline of the multi-athlete could also cut down on the enormous costs of healthcare due to over-use injuries, obesity, and poor health that affects our children today.
Why are some people more active than others? Is it environment/social, or is it biological, or is it both? My belief is both, but with a heavy dose of environmental factors. Where you grow up and what you’re exposed to plays a big role in who you will become. I highly recommend reading “OUTLIERS” by Malcolm Gladwell, which goes in-depth on how luck and social factors have a significant influence on who we become in life. Our destiny lies in what we’re exposed to and, to some extent, our luck of the draw. Now, these aren’t the only factors, but I think they are critical in shaping our lives.
The environment I grew up in had a neighborhood full of kids my age, who were very interested in sports and various outside activities. There is no doubt that my environment, specifically the area, New England, and time period, 70’s-80’s, had a dramatic effect on me. My environment, along with encouragement from my parents, which was the icing on the cake for me, set me on the path of “jockism."
My parents never said NO to any athletic endeavor and never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do, except that damn trumpet. Thank goodness they gave up on a musical career for me because I despised that thing! Plus it really hurt playing the trumpet with those old school braces. Trumpet lessons also cut into my sports and play time, which really made me salty. When I finally quit I never had a desire to play the trumpet again. Note to parents: don’t force your children to do activities they don’t like. It’s not an enjoyable experience for them and becomes more of a stressful nuisance than anything else.
So, what can we organically do to foster an environment of physical fitness? That starts with acting on things we can control and ignoring things we can’t. For example, we can’t control technology and how society changes organically due to an ever-evolving species (Humans). Constantly evolving is what every living being does on this planet; Humans just do it better because we’re at the top of the food chain. However, as societies advance some fundamental core values can be left behind. In America, it’s the importance of physical activities and how those activities develop the body and mind, that’s being left behind.
Grass Roots is where everyone can have an impact. Change starts at home first. Allowing your child to have a normal childhood that is full of experience. Don’t think your kid is going to be the next Tom Brady at 12yrs old. Let him play multiple sports and have fun. It will all eventually work itself out. Your child will be forever appreciative of you for allowing them to experience so many different athletic activities.
We can also demand change for many of the school systems’ curriculums. Physical Fitness should be part of school every day. Allocating funds to public schools so they can support such programs would save Americans billion of dollars in health care later on and provide vital choices/opportunities for today’s youth. Public schools’ athletic departments should receive funding so they can properly fund sports teams. As a society, we must demand this action because it’s hurting today’s youth, which, in-turn, affects everyone in the society. In situations such as this, the Trickle Down Effect can be terribly damaging.
The estimated annual health care costs of obesity-related illness are a staggering $190.2 billion or nearly 21% of annual medical spending in the United States.1 Childhood obesity alone is responsible for $14 billion in direct medical costs. Obesity-related medical costs in general are expected to rise significantly, especially because today’s obese children are likely to become tomorrow’s obese adults.2,3 If obesity rates were to remain at 2010 levels, the projected savings for medical expenditures would be $549.5 billion over the next two decades.
The direct and additional hidden costs of obesity are stifling businesses and organizations that stimulate jobs and growth in U.S. cities. In the 10 cities with the highest obesity rates, the direct costs connected with obesity and obesity-related diseases are roughly $50 million per 100,000 residents. If these 10 cities cut their obesity rates down to the national average, the combined savings to their communities would be $500 million in health care costs each year.5
In addition to growing health care costs attributed to obesity, the nation will incur higher costs for disability and unemployment benefits. Businesses are suffering due to obesity-related job absenteeism ($4.3 billion annually). These costs also will continue to rise.6
Governments must invest more into the cities and towns infrastructure. We have to hold the elected officials accountable and demand they address this issue. Every town or city has parks that need to be fixed, maintained, and, in many cases, done over. The more parks that are accessible, the more opportunities children will have to experience a diverse variety of activities and directly impact their health. Invest in the future - our kids - and in return we will be helping the community as a whole. The Trickle Down Effect works both ways. These actions are easily implemented and greatly needed.
Lastly, there are enough qualified surgeons, doctors, movement specialists and coaches to perform clinics for parents, elected officials, school boards, and communities on the dangers of specialization and the impact of lack of physical education or funding for schools and communities. We are in the midst of an epidemic and the data shows childhood obesity and sports related injuries are on the rise. It’s time to reverse this trend.
1 Cawley J, Meyerhoefer C. The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach. Journal of Health Economics. 31(1):219-230. 2012.
2 Marder W and Chang S. Childhood Obesity: Costs, Treatment Patterns, Disparities in Care, and Prevalent Medical Conditions. Thomson Medstat Research Brief, 2006. www.medstat.com/pdfs/childhood_obesity.pdf (accessed May 2009).
3 Wang LY, Chyen D, Lee S, et al. "The Association Between Body Mass Index in Adolescence and Obesity in Adulthood." Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(5): 512–518, 2008.
4 Finkelstein et al. Obesity and Severe Obesity Forecasts Through 2030: Am J Prev Med 2012; 42(6): 563-570.
5 The Cost of Obesity to US Cities, Gallup Business Journal, Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Accessed June 1, 2012. Available at http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/145778/cost-obesity-cities.aspx#1
6 Cawley, J. "Occupation-Specific Absenteeism Costs Associated with Obesity and Morbid Obesity." Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 49(12): 1317-1323, 2007.