NIC DECAIRE, SPECIAL TO THE NEWS JOURNAL

His head was slumped down. His feet dangled off the bench.

He couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, but already he weighed about 40 pounds more than other kids his age.

He sat on a bench in the park, tapping on his iPad. His dad sat next to him. He seemed oblivious to the other children running around and playing. Every once in a while, he took a sip from a Pepsi by his side.

My heart ached as I watched him.

If he stays on this sedentary path, this boy may face many health problems in the coming years. I thought about overuse injuries to his neck, eye and hand stemming from the time spent playing video games. I thought about weight-related problems like type 2 diabetes and emotional struggles resulting from other children’s ridicule about his weight.

It made me sad, not just for this young boy but the next generation. We are setting up these kids for failure.

Turn on the television and you will see nothing but ads for fast food, soda and the latest technology. This is how they think they should spend their time.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Adults can make a difference, but it requires us to rethink our own habits and lifestyles.

It’s not easy. I know the struggle of a busy family life.

Parents rush in the morning to get everyone out of the house and off to school. In the afternoon, they shuttle their kids to myriad after-school activities before rushing them home to eat, bathe and finish homework before it’s time for bed.

For many of us, family life operates on a razor-thin schedule. We send work emails while our kids sit at band practice. We take conference calls in the car.

All the while our kids are watching and listening. They see when we are so cramped for time we roll through the drive-thru because we don’t have time to make a healthy dinner. They see when we opt for the DVR instead of a family walk after dinner. They hear us complain about our growing waistlines.

I am just as guilty as everyone else. I gave my daughter an iPad to keep her busy while I am writing this column. The only difference is that after I am done we are going for a walk on the beach.

Children learn from our behaviors. My life is surrounded by health and fitness. We talk about it at home. I take my oldest daughter to work with me once a week so she is exposed to fitness.

Last week, when I picked Josephine up from camp she said “ Dad, I am starting a Healthy Kids Club.” My heart smiled.

I asked her what she planned.

This is what she told me: “Daily exercise. We have to eat fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water. You also have to limit the amount of desserts you eat weekly.”

She is 6.

So how do we get other children to join the Healthy Kids Club, I asked her. “We just have to tell them about it and get them excited to be a part of it.”

Here are a few things Josephine and I came up with to help children live a healthier life and become part of the Healthy Kids Club:

1. Go for a scavenger hunt – Instead of asking your children if they want to go for a walk after dinner, make a list of five to 10 items to find in the neighborhood. Turn family fitness into a game.

2. Blend vegetables into pasta sauce – Most kids love spaghetti but don’t want to eat the broccoli and peas on their plates. Boil the broccoli and peas. Mix them with a jar of prepared sauce in a blender. Your children will think it’s just their plain old spaghetti.

3. Have a dance party – I will be the first to admit I love putting on Kidz Bop and watching my girls have a dance party in the living room. They have so much fun, sometimes they even get me to dance with them.

4. Local farms and markets – Take your children to local farms and markets and have them pick out the fruits and vegetables. When they have a sense of “owning it” they are more likely to want to eat it. They also learn these foods don’t just magically appear at ShopRite. Even better, try planting a small garden in your backyard.

5. Create a chart – If your children are like mine, they love to be rewarded and they love sticker charts even more. After our talk the other day, Josephine made a Healthy Kids Club chart. Each day has three boxes underneath it. Whenever she does something healthy – exercise or eat a piece of fruit, for example – she gets to put a sticker in the box. Her goal is to do three healthy things per day. (Reading books counts as brain health.)

Each time I seek a kid mesmerized by a tablet in their lap or swigging a supersized soda, I am reminded of that young boy in the park.

By just implementing some of these ideas of the Healthy Kids Club, families could be setting their children up for a healthier, more productive life.

As a father and fitness professional I want to see the next generation lives a long and healthy life.

Will you please help me on this mission?

Nic DeCaire, owner of Fusion Fitness Center in Newark, has been training clients for more than a decade.

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Fusion Fitness Center

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