Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

Welcome to the season of New Gym Memberships!
Come January, many people scramble to join for that New Year’s Resolutions, burn off those extra chocolate-logged pounds and remake themselves in the image of, well, something better than themselves.

Guilty as charged. [Raising hand as the first to admit Me Too]

It should be obvious that gym memberships are for suckers such as myself that spend 40-100 hours a week sitting in front of a computer. (And to set the record straight, being a loyal San Franciscan: yes, I do walk to work, the grocery store, and…bars). Gym memberships are not, however–unlike Trix–for kids.

And along the lines of “New Year New You,” Men’s Fitness magazine has come out with it’s 7th annual Fittest and Fattest Cities (San Francisco was ranked 4th Fittest).

The magazine also reports that, according to a study by the CDC, nearly “57 percent of Californians are overweight.” And one of the biggest (no pun intended) weight issues is that of childhood obesity–a startling 26.5 percent of children in California are overweight, according to the the CA Center for Public Health Advocacy. This is up from about 15% in 2000, as reported by the American Obesity Association.

Included as culprits of the cause are school lunches, video games and the decline of sports in school; some say kids are just the newest victims of a over-privileged, over-indulgent, consumer society.

So it’s no wonder that it has finally come to this:

while home for the holidays I was reading the local newspaper, The Press Democrat, and came across an advertisement for Fitniks™, a “family fitness club” that provides “a simple and convenient way for kids 6 to 12 to exercise while having an electrifying experience.”

Their ad steers clear of the kind of image you’d expect of a gym advertisment–there is no fit, muscle-bodied family nor smiling limber child in a soccer outfit. Instead, they tout the image of a pudgy 10-year-old in cargo shorts and fat-laced tennis shoes. He’s smiling, though.

The irony, of course, is not simply that we take away children’s opportunity for physical activity both at home and at school and then need to buy a gym membership to recreate it. It’s the way in which the modern child has to be “enticed” to engage in physical activity: Fitniks boasts personal trainers that develop programs for kids aerobics, strength training and “exciting interactive video gaming technology.”

That’s right: kids are so out of shape from sitting on their keister all day that the only way to get them to be active is to incorporate it with video games. In fact, the Fitniks’ ad claims that you can win a free one year membership, t-shirts, and even a new Sony PS2.

Color me cynical, but it seems that in our obsession to treat the symptom and ignore the illness, we’ve forgotten that kids by nature are hyperactive little devils. I’m not sure about other people’s childhood experiences, but when I was a kid my parents couldn’t get me to sit down. I was a normal kid, too: I had a Nintendo, I loved Jolly Ranchers, and I threw down a tantrum or two when Mom reminded me that it was time for ballet class. And yet, physical activity used to be a defining characteristic of being a kid. What happened?

Instead of addressing that exploding childhood obesity rates nation and world-wide (the New Zealand government has begun banning certain foods in school lunches because it’s such and issue, e.g.) are due to an overhaul in cultural norms, examples like Fitniks suggest the solution is to get kids on some Xbox 360-come-Stairmaster machine.

Perhaps it’s not so dreary a picture as I make it out to be: it’s simply the contemporary reinvention of what it means to be a kid today. Technology is changing the definition of what it means to be a young person in many other ways (call from memory a recent New York Times article titled “The Lives of Teenagers Now: Open Blogs, Not Locked Diaries” [a TimesSelect subscription needed to view]).

It makes me think about the world of interactive exercise into which my as-yet-unborn niece or nephew will be born (I’m still undecided on motherhood, Thank You), and makes me thankful that–for the sake of the child’s health–my brother and sister-in-law are Dance, Dance Revolution fans.

[this post is dedicated to Kathi]

§65 · January 6, 2006 · Brands/Trends, In the News, San Francisco glory, This Modern Life · · [Print]

2 Comments to “Fit-tastic!”

  1. admin says:

    I would like to comment. You have taken a small discussion we had and written a timely, thoughful article. Your writing is, as always, lively and quick-witted. I hope our discussions will prompt more. LOVE, Moomers

  2. roya says:

    i’m joining a gym today….

    just another brick in the wall;)

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