By Justine Josue
Cecilia’s fists tighten. Her arms flex. She strengthens her grip on the suspended bar. She looks up at the ceiling as she works to support her weight.
Surrounding her are fellow members of her gym, none older than three-years old.
My Gym Children’s Fitness Center in Stony Brook holds classes every day throughout the week, dedicated to getting children as young as four-months old to be active. One in three children are overweight or obese by the age of six, according to a study by the National Health Service published on March 30. And childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s according to the CDC.
“In my clinic, we’re seeing a lot of children who are overweight, and we’re seeing it younger and younger,” Dr. Lucy Yang Chang, a pediatrician at Bellevue Hospital, said.
Hover over the silhouettes to see their demographic statistics.
My Gym’s primary mission statement is to reverse this dangerous trend by promoting a routine of an active lifestyle at a young age.
They currently offer 13 different classes, varying in age range and content. Along with guided playtime and exercise, children can participate in gymnastics, karate, and ballet.
Out of those three, most classes incorporate elements of gymnastics, a controversial sport for young children. In a study published in “The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism” researchers observed that rhythmic gymnasts under the age of 14 experienced growth delay.
My Gym classes do not involve any strenuous gymnastics. Basic stretches and movements are only taught to promote flexibility and coordination.
“They’re using all their different muscles and we let the parents know throughout our classes which muscles they are engaging,” Megan Perfetti, an instructor at My Gym, said. “But they’re just having fun, bouncing around like little beans, and they don’t realize they’re actually exercising.”
Two-year-old Cecilia let go of the bar and got her feet on the ground again, pumping her fists in the air.
“I did it!” she yelled as she ran into her dad’s arms.
“She loves it,” Greg Schultz, Cecilia’s father said. “It’s hard in the winter time to get active, so this gym helps a lot.”
In the battle against child obesity, exercise is only part of the solution.
“Both diet and exercise go together,” Chang said. “The focus should be not only on healthy eating for the child, but really for the whole family,” Chang said.
A healthy lifestyle should be a family goal, Chang said. The family-inclusive environments of places like My Gym work to promote this cooperative goal.
Parents and guests are always welcome to accompany the children during the class, and Perfetti says they often do.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Perfetti. “It’s a bonding moment for both the parents and the kids, and it’s a bonding moment for all of us together.”
With this, My Gym may have found an efficient way to motivate children to get active and stay active.
“Young kids are often more willing to go and exercise if their parents, siblings, and/or friends go with them,” Dr. Xiaozhong Wen, faculty expert on childhood obesity at the University of Buffalo, said. “With this model, I would recommend the gym as a good way for parents to increase their child’s physical activity.”