Clubbin' it

Are fitness centers fit for kids?

Just for kids

Kid News

October 28, 1999|By Keith Harrison | Keith Harrison,Chicago Tribune

You've seen the TV ads: Aerobics instructors bark out orders to rows of sweaty fitness fanatics, while muscle-bound giants grunt their way through a weight-lifting session.

Sure, joining a health club wouldn't be a bad idea for your uncle with the beer gut. But is it good for kids? With news reports regularly describing kids as chubby couch potatoes, one Chicago fitness center has decided to serve kids only.

The Children's Health & Executive Club doesn't look much different from a typical health club, with its exercise bikes, weight machines (which are kid-size), plastic steps for step aerobics and space for floor exercises.

But the kids in CHEC's programs "aren't always working out and doing aerobics," counselor Kris Jones said. Physical fitness activities are alternated with trips to the park or library, crafts, nutrition discussions and chess and other board games.

Franchise owner Sherry Drake said that with the threat of gangs and violence outside and the lure of video games inside, kids seem to be spending less time outdoors. "We want them to get moving around."

Two doctors we talked to said fitness clubs for kids can be a good thing -- as long as everyone is aware of some issues.

"Kids should not overemphasize weight training," because doing so could injure their growing bodies, said Dr. Elizabeth Pickvance, a pediatrician and orthopedic surgeon at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. (CHEC officials say they focus on cardiovascular fitness instead.) Pickvance and Dr. Holly Benjamin, assistant professor of pediatrics and orthopedics at the University of Chicago, said everyone needs to be careful that the emphasis on fitness does not lead to eating disorders or unhealthy ideas about body image.

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