Are Pedometers Effective in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity?

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens, Teens

A pedometer is a portable device that records the number of steps taken or the distance covered in a given period of time. It is usually clipped onto the waistline of your clothing in line with your knee and worn throughout the day to measure your activity level. Many school-age programs incorporate pedometers as a means to fight the rising childhood obesity epidemic.

In my practice, many parents ask me if pedometers can help their kids. I first tell them they are a great tool for kids to monitor their own daily lifestyle activity level. However, I then follow up by warning parents that pedometers do not account for intensity level of activity, a predominant factor in the fight against obesity.

Wearing Pedometers Raises Activity Awareness
A study by the University of Newcastle found that pedometers help pre-teens and teens to stay active. The researchers reviewed 14 international studies which kept track of the physical activity of kids who used pedometers. Twelve of the 14 studies showed that pedometers increased physical activity among kids and increased the number of steps by 500 to 2500 steps daily. Overall, teens and pre-teens that were previously inactive, increased their levels of physical activity when they used pedometers.

Pedometers Do Not Account for Exercise Intensity
Pedometer research suggests the ultimate goal for adults is to complete 10,000 steps a day; the equivalent of 5 miles. This amount of daily walking will help maintain a healthy body weight and therefore improve health markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol.

Parents often take this information and assume they are taking care of their kids' health by having them use pedometers and accumulating as many steps as possible each day. I agree that it's a great start but remind them that the goal is 60 minutes of "vigorous" activity on a daily basis. Kids need to push their bodies harder than every day walking, regardless of how many steps are accumulated.

For optimal health, these "steps" should be viewed as a bonus to their daily 60 minutes of vigorous activity.

How to Use Pedometers to Help Kids
As long as parents are educated on the fact that pedometers are simply estimates of steps taken throughout the day and do not account for intensity level, pedometers can be a useful tool to keep kids motivated about living an active lifestyle. Here's how they can be used:

1. Have your child wear the pedometer for 3 days and record the number of steps per day. Obtain an average baseline number of steps per day.

2. Set short-term and long-term goals for your child to increase this number on a weekly basis. For example, 10% more steps per day until they reach 5,000-10,000.

3. Chart your child's progress with a reward for achieving each goal.

4. Give your child suggestions on how to increase the number of steps per day. For example, walk to and from school, play active games at recess and after school.

Reggie Reyes is a certified kinesiologist and personal trainer. He is the president and founder of pt4kids a company that creates specialized training programs for kids all ages and fitness levels.


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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.