The rate at which Uganda is succumbing to childhood obesity is alarming. Parents especially in urban centres are now noticing how unhealthy their children are and are looking for a solution. Tomson Nowamani, a child development expert, says obese children are not only exposed to physical problems such as bone, joint and breathing problems, they also face cardiovascular risk factors (including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes). There are also emotional issues such as low self-esteem since they are most likely to be teased, bullied, or rejected by peers. This leads to more problems including depression and substance abuse, among others.
“And because overweight children tend to experience precocious puberty, they will be more sexually mature than their peers, leading to behavioural problems and stigma,” explains Nowamani.
Haula Musoke Nakiganda, a fitness and lifestyle expert, says an active lifestyle and healthier diets can save children from the trap of obesity and diseases. “Our children live a different lifestyle from our own. They are picked and dropped at school in a van. Instead of using break time to play, they are busy wolfing down rolls of sausages and drinking soda and other sugary drinks. What chance do they have of remaining healthy?” Nakiganda wonders.

She highly recommends that children from six years and above start working out in the gym. “Make sure the child is doing exercises that incorporate both cardiovascular (aerobic) and strength (anaerobic) work that tax the “whole body”. These exercises encourage the children to train their sense of balance and coordination which are integral in the progressive development of a child’s physiological systems,” Nakiganda adds.
Pearl Baine, the proprietor of Indulge Maternity Spa, one of the gyms with children’s programmes says she was inspired to start the service after realising that children had no space for exercise in their homes. “Children especially from international schools have long holidays. You will find a child cooped up in their family apartment for close to three months playing video games and watching TV. At the end of the holiday, they are unfit and unhealthy,” Baine adds.

Robert Ddamulira, a fitness instructor, also says it is important for children as young as two years to have regular workouts. “When we talk about working out or exercising, many only consider the old, neglecting children aged two to three, four to seven years and eight to 12 years. But the fact is children also need to work out whether from home or school to keep fit and healthy,” he adds. “By age two, toddlers should be able to walk and run well. They might be able to kick a ball and jump in place with both feet. By age three, toddlers usually can balance briefly on one foot, kick a ball forward, throw a ball overhand, catch a ball with stiff arms, and pedal a tricycle,” Ddamulira adds.

Experts concur that a child involved in different sports such as swimming and soccer has greater chances of having stronger muscles compared to one who does not. This is because the more the muscles are involved in the different activities, the more they get room for stretch hence being stronger.

Exercises that best suit children
Let’s face it, working out might be good for our health but it is not fun most of the time. For children to commit to a workout regimen Robert Ddamulira, a fitness instructor, advises parents and instructors to consider scheduling (best times are mornings,) incorporate different workouts every session and make it fun by adding their favourite music. “When a child is new to training, they should be introduced to basic bodyweight movements that will get them into decent physical shape and with a proper diet, help build muscle,” he adds.
Here are some of the best workouts for children;
• Jump Jacks
Effected Areas: leg muscles:
• Squats
Affected Areas: Thighs
• Stair Climber
Effected Areas: legs, ankles and feet:
• Shuttle Runs With Ball
Effected areas: total body:
• Alternate Toe Touch
Effected Areas: legs, arms, back and shoulders
• Walks/Jogging
Affected Areas: Whole body