No Kids Allowed: How Fitness Centers are Contributing to the Obesity Epidemic

I love to workout. I love to travel. And when I travel, I love to workout. On vacation, some people visit museums, historic buildings, or beautiful cathedrals. I visit gyms. Each gym offers a new perspective on fitness. Some gyms reveal creative ways of organizing equipment; some introduce me to new equipment; and some have enthusiastic instructors with unique training methods. I love learning from others who are passionate about fitness!

However, more often than not, I encounter facilities with a “No Kids” policy. This is especially frustrating when I am trying to find a place to train with my 13-year old son. I hate having to beg, plead and lie just so my son can access a squat rack. (By the way, the lying approach never works because my son is closer in size to an 11-year old than a 16-year old.)

My frustration is especially concerning when you consider the following facts:

* Only one in three children are physically active every day.
* Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g., TV, videogames, computer).
* Only 6 states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont) require physical education in every grade, K-12
* 20.5% of children ages 12 to 19 are obese
* Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

With over 29,000 health and fitness centers in the United States, children should have plenty opportunities for exercise. Unfortunately, however, the majority of these centers exclude children from participating.

In fairness, children have other fitness opportunities outside of gym memberships. They can play on sports teams or participate in individual sports, such as dance. However, team sports do not appeal to all children. And individual sports are expensive compared to a gym membership.

Both the CrossFit organization and United States Weightlifting have recognized the benefits of strength training for children. Over 2500 CrossFit Kids programs around the world instruct kids in safe movement patterns and proper use and handling of fitness equipment. In addition, hundreds of certified weightlifting coaches across the U.S. instruct children in proper techniques for lifting weights.

It would be wonderful if other fitness centers would support our children by offering workout options for them.

I’m NOT advocating in favor of . . .

  • Bringing your baby or toddler to the gym and letting them sit by the wall while you workout
  • Allowing kids to run freely around a gym, potentially hurting themselves and others

I am advocating in favor of . . .

  • Allowing parents or responsible adults to bring their teens and pre-teens to the gym and work alongside them
  • Offering classes that teach children how to properly handle standard gym equipment
  • Issuing “Safety Cards” for children who have demonstrated safe use and handling of gym equipment
  • Offering a separate teen-area with barbells, squat racks and other equipment set aside for younger members
  • Creating “Dad & Me” or “Mom & Me” nights, where parents and kids can use the weight room together
  • Setting up mentoring programs for experienced lifters to teach younger lifters how to lift safely

With a few changes, fitness centers across the nation could educate the next generation of club members and simultaneously help America fight its obesity epidemic.

Or perhaps I’m just venting my frustration . . . ask me how much I still care about this issue once my son turns 16.

As a parent, if you find yourself without training options for your child on vacation, consider these possibilities.




By |2017-06-13T10:21:36-04:00April 27th, 2017|Parent Resources|

About the Author:

Susan Friend is a weightlifter, coach, and weightlifting enthusiast. Susan has participated in both the U.S. and German weightlifting systems, along with her son, Hutch, who holds four U.S. Youth National Championship titles and one German Youth National Championship title.

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