Sol Gilbert, owner of Underground Gym and spokesperson for Tanita, is speaking out on the importance of teaching kids about health and fitness for tackling the growing obesity pandemic among young people in the UK.

It’s a well-known fact that obesity in young people is one of today’s most pressing issues and, according to research, it’s not going away any time soon. Although it’s a global problem, this country in particular has one of the worst rates of obesity in the world, with the UK now officially the fattest nation in Western Europe and one in every 10 young people aged five to 19 obese.

No doubt, it’s one of our most hotly-discussed topics and yet, despite an ever-growing list of explanations - including, most recently, energy drinks – we still haven’t found a solution. Jamie Oliver’s high profile campaign for a sugar tax has done a fantastic job of bringing the extent of the problem to the public’s attention but it only goes so far in tackling it.

A fresh approach to fitness for kids

Through my role at Tanita and working in the fitness industry, I’m acutely aware of the damage we’re doing to our bodies due to unhealthy lifestyles. However, as a parent, I know all too well the struggle to get kids to eat right and exercise properly. Teenagers, especially, seem to spend most of their time on their phone and eating junk. A particularly vulnerable age group is between 13 and 15, when they feel too old to start new sports clubs but too young to join a gym.

I call these kids ‘the lost generation’ and it’s this group we need to target with better education around health and fitness. Memories of poorly-taught and ineffective P.E lessons have put many young adults off exercise for good and we need a fresh perspective on fitness education to provide teens with the best possible start in life.

‘Gamifying’ fitness

The key here is to keep things interesting. When you’re competing against video games, smartphones and rapidly shortening attention spans, you’ve got to make sure you keep things entertaining and interactive in order to make sure teens stay engaged. Nothing’s going to put a young person off fitness quicker than repeating the same dull workouts again and again.

I’ve found linking exercises back to sport to be most effective, because when a teen sees the relevance of a certain training activity for improving their performance in football, rugby or gymnastics, for example, that’s the best motivation you can give them. Knowing that Ronaldo or Serena Williams are likely to be carrying out similar training techniques to stay top of their game is brilliant inspiration to any budding sports stars.

In the same way, body composition monitors are another great way of helping keep exercise as a ‘game’ and keep young people motivated. The measurements they give are similar to the kind of point-scoring system you might find in a video game and, as such, encourage young people to keep building on previous ‘scores’ by working towards health and fitness goals. The ‘MyTanita’ app allows users to track their measurements day to day and set specific targets with help from a personal trainer.

It’s on the inside that counts

At the same time, we need to recognise that young people are especially vulnerable to societal pressures and are highly susceptible to what they see in the media. It’s crucial we remind teens not believe everything they’re seeing on television or social media. As countless studies have shown, the rise of ‘fitspiration’ and the cult of celebrity in modern society are damaging young people’s body image perceptions and warping their idea of what ‘healthy’ looks like. Body composition scales can be helpful in reminding kids that it is internal health that counts and aiming for a picture-perfect Insta-bod is not healthy or sustainable long term.

However while this technology is fantastic for providing young people with better goalposts for health and fitness, the knowledge among gym professionals on how to use the scales has been shown to be extremely limited.

In response to this, Tanita will soon be launching the UK’s first Tanita Training Academy in a drive to improve the fitness industry’s understanding of body composition and its uses for providing an enhanced client experience. The course is CPD accredited and has been developed to give gym professionals a better understanding how body composition works and how it can be of value to both clients and gyms. The Tanita Training Academy will be held on 26th September in London and the 24th October in Edinburgh, with registration open now.

To learn more and sign up for your place on the Tanita Training Academy by clicking here: Sign up