Fighting Obesity is a Family Matter

Participating in physical activity and following a balanced diet should be a family affair, says the American Physical Therapy Association.

Making the commitment to be physically active is one of the best ways children and adults can prevent or combat obesity and its consequences, according to a statement from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Families should be at the forefront of establishing good physical activity habits, said Teresa Schuemann, physical therapist at Colorado Physical Therapy Specialists in Fort Collins, CO, and a sports certified specialist. "It's much easier for children to adopt healthy lifestyles if they see their parents making physical activity a priority," she said. "Parents should emphasize a healthy lifestyle instead of focusing solely on weight and support the family's healthy choices rather than pounds lost. Children and adults who participate in sustained daily physical activity and follow a balanced diet enjoy improved cardiovascular fitness, greater bone mass and strength, and are better able to manage their weight--all of which help prevent the onset of obesity and type 2 diabetes."

Children with physical disabilities have a strong desire to participate in physical activities and sports, yet opportunities and resources are often limited, explained Lisa Chiarello, PT, PhD, PCS, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. "Children with physical disabilities are at risk of not participating in any form of physical activity. Motor function and adaptive behavior, family activity, environmental modifications, activity accommodations, and assistive technology all play key roles in supporting physical activity in children with physical disabilities," she said.

For obese children and adults, promoting movement, reducing pain when it is present, maintaining or restoring function, and preventing disability are the goals of a physical therapist-designed exercise program. According to Susan Deusinger, PT, PhD, FAPTA, professor of physical therapy and neurology and director of the Program in Physical Therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo, preventing or combating obesity is a complex and long-term challenge. "Physical therapists address how obesity affects the way the body moves and functions. This is accomplished through individual and group exercises to restore flexibility, increase strength and cardiovascular endurance, reduce pain, and address postural stability and balance. These help the individual to better perform activities of daily living while decreasing disability associated with long term obesity."

Physical therapists also incorporate behavior modification into weight loss programs, and help the individual set goals and monitor his or her behavior. Frequent contact, feedback, and continuous motivation and support are all components of behavioral programs that physical therapists provide in individual and group settings.

For people with complications associated with diabetes, physical therapists can help restore quality of life through the use of special tests to check foot sensation; decrease cramping pain during walking; evaluate and care for skin ulcers and sores that are slow to heal; improve walking ability by adapting shoes or orthotics; instruct on how to protect the feet if they have lost sensation, and recommend shoe wear or assistive devices. "Because of the health risks associated with obesity, physical therapists collaborate with physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dietitians, and other health professionals in managing a patient's care," said Deusinger.

For more:

  • APTA’s Smart Moves for Families
  • Video: Activities for Kids of All Abilities
  • Video: Exercise for People with Diabetes