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Kids Turning To Personal Trainers To Fight Obesity

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One in three American children are considered overweight. While you’ve probably heard that statistic before, you may not know that more than a million American youngsters are turning to personal trainers.

It didn’t take long to find kids turning to personal training, right in our own backyard.

The Southdale YMCA in Edina has been offering the program for a couple of years and they say they’re busier now than ever.

“Everybody thinks personal trainers is for the stars, and adults,” said Southdale YMCA Fitness Director Espi MacMillan.

Think again.

Meet 13-year-old Jack Watt.

“I wouldn’t want to like come here and say, that I want to get like a 24-pack, just so I can get all the girls,” Watt said.

Jack’s been training for a year now and while he describes his work as fun, he also says it’s pretty tough.

“You can push them a little bit harder because they have that endless amount of energy,” said Personal Trainer Sarah Wright.

And the kids don’t mind being pushed.

“He’ll work me and work me until I’m like literally panting, then he’ll let me take a break,” Watt said.

When asked if it’s fun for him, Watt replied, “Well, I don’t want to really say it’s fun but I guess it’s getting me ready for the future, I guess.”

Watt’s lesson didn’t come easy.

“To tell you the truth, I’ve been bullied before,” Watt said.

It was after his experience, he wanted to get moving, and get motivated.

“Just come in here so you don’t have like a low self-esteem, just build that back up, have a better character,” Watt said.

Watt said he now feels like he’s back to feeling how he wants.

“I’ve seen a lot of results. I mean, coming here, I’ve seen better scores on my miles and endurance,” Watt said.

MacMillan says their numbers have picked up in the last couple years. She says parents often say the program works simply because it’s easier for a third party to approach a sometimes touchy subject than a parent.

“I have kids myself, and they always respond better to people outside of the home,” MacMillan said.

While some might argue, it’s an expensive habit to adopt as young as 8 years old, the YMCA disagrees.

Their response: “It’s never too young. Obviously, we’re not going to do the same type of activities that we might do with an adult,” MacMillan said.

Twin Cities Psychologist Dr. Shannon Garrity, who specializes in body image, says she supports kids using trainers, as long as they are learning lessons along the way.

“It can be a really good idea — just make sure that they leave the gym with it,” Dr. Garrity said.

She says it’s a fight worth fighting. Many of her now-adult clients say they remember what it felt like to be the overweight child.

“Some people I work with, they were really obese as young children, and I work with them now, and they’re in good shape, they exercise and they consistently say, I always see that fat kid,” Garrity said.

She recommends parents approach the subject from a lens of love. Instead of taking a critical stance, it’s important to acknowledge the problem is rooted in more than just physical appearance.

“It’s a sign and end result of a whole host of other problems,” Garrity said.

The solution, she argues, is continuing an open conversation. She says it’s important to support all of the child’s other habits. When you ask how they are, it’s important to really listen and respond.

Garrity says don’t forget, at the end of the day, you are your child’s biggest role model.

YMCA Southdale currently has 25 kids they see multiple times a week as part of the sessions they offer.

The training costs $45 for a half hour with a trainer, or $70 for an hour session.

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