Obesity and Dance Programming


Obesity is a major issue on the minds of many educators, and lawmakers alike; dance programming may be the factor they are missing. Being overweight or obese in childhood can prove more dangerous than obesity in adulthood. The child’s growing body can be susceptible to diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, bone and joint problems, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. These health issues often persist and worsen into adulthood if the child can not get to a “healthy” weight. These children are very likely to carry their weight into adulthood, where many more life threatening dangers await.

Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and osteoarthritis are just a few ailments that are more likely when a person is obese throughout childhood into adulthood. Individuals who are overweight also have a higher chance at developing over twelve types of cancer, ranging from breast cancer to prostate cancer.

Young people who are obese are far more likely to be bullied in schools. This can cause a plethora of mental challenges for anyone who is noticeably overweight. These children are likely to become depressed, have low self-esteem, and have a much more negative body image than their peers. Being the target of bullying and discriminatory behavior from other students their age, these students often feel different from their peers. This will cause them to withdraw from activities with their peers; often opting out of gym, or recess activities. The fact that these students are not treated equally by their peers, and at times their teachers, causes them to feel this discrimination. They may also not see very high marks in their classes as result of the high pressures, and stresses of functioning in a place where they are not accepted.

It may be important to offer children balanced diets at home, but studies show that schools actually have more influence in shaping a child’s healthy attitudes. Michelle Obama began a campaign last year called Let’s Move. This program facilitated a supportive and fun environment for young people struggling (or not) with their weight to get together and dance. This program is not created to force the children to dance, but to make them feel comfortable doing so. Dance and movement therapies have been proven to have psychotherapeutic benefits. These can be used to help the youth who are experiencing depression and discrimination caused by their peers.

The therapy works by bringing students together with a movement therapist. Students suffering from obesity are likely to feel extra strain on their joints, bones, and muscles if they are living a mostly sedentary life. This feeling of pain can be easily intensified by movement. This may be a reason why many overweight students do not want to participate in gym class, because they are expected to perform like the other students in their class. Movement therapy works at the students pace. The teacher leads the student through improvisational exercises. This allows the student to explore the movement range of their body, and they can easily track improvements in their range of movement, and comfort exerting energy. This program is not so much about making obese students run until they are thin. Instead, the dance programming supports these students in exploring themselves, and giving them higher self-esteem levels, and giving them the tools to decide how to deal with their own obesity.

By Joshua Shane

Stanford Med

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