You can get garden variety health advice from the daily newspaper, the "health" section of most book stores, and of course thousands of web sites. I'm hoping to present thought provoking and maybe change provoking thoughts about individual and community health. This blog is not just what to do about health, but how to think about it. I'm looking forward to an exchange of ideas with readers. July, 2010


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Little League Health

One night this week I watched my grandson play his last Little League game for the fall season (fall ball).  He and his team mates have improved a lot, somewhat due to practice but mostly due to physical growth and development.  One thing that is unmistakable is that every kid on the field, about 24 for two teams, is normal weight.  Not one player was overweight.  In the general population of this age group, about 1 in 5 would be overweight or obese.  So why are these ball players all thin?

There are several reasons.  Obese children might self-select out, choosing not to participate because they lack the confidence or ability to be successful.  Given the fact that at this level of play, all the kids are beginners, it is unlikely that even an obese child could not play.  However, the kids that do play are probably a little more active than most kids their age.  The key word is "little" because baseball at this level is rarely strenuous and many times stationary.  Players stand stock still until a ball comes near.  On offense, they sit until it is time to bat.  I doubt the average player burns more than 2-300 extra calories during a game.  Even some of that amount is compensated by snacks given to the kids at the end of games.

Another possible reason is that these ball players are not thin because they are in Little League, but they are physically active by inclination and family encouragement, leading them to play in school and community sports.  The key point is their fitness is not driven by teaching them about the importance of physical exercise and a healthy diet.  Kids this age are not motivated by long-term health benefits; in fact, a message about anything being good for health usually would not resonate with them at all.  So the question is what is the essence of motivation that makes these kids physically active, and how could that be sprinkled like pixie dust on all kids?

I think part of the answer is to change prevailing family patterns and values in our culture.  What if families organized themselves as though movement was important.? I don't really believe the statistics that the average person watches 4-6 hours of TV per day, but whatever the number is, it is not sustainable if we want a healthy population.  Nevertheless, someone needs to figure out how to instill into new parents a social norm of walking, biking, running, playing, and doing it every day.

Here is the bad news.  As I observed the Little League playing field, all of the kids were thin, but most of the coaches were overweight.  What happens between playing days and coaching days for that transition to occur?  This is another challenge.

In health promotion practice, there are not many out-of-the-park hits.  There are more typically bunts, base-on-balls, single hits, maybe an occasional steal.  Winning the game and the world series of changing day to day lifestyles is very much a long term proposition.  More times than not, we have to try again next year.

1 comment:

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