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Article posted: 2/24/2013 6:00 AM

Suburban parents finding ways to sneak in exercise

By Kimberly Pohl

More and more parents are getting savvy when it comes to sneaking more nutritious food into their child's diet.

Adding pureed veggies to sauces, swapping out oil with unsweetened applesauce in baked goods, using an avocado spread instead of mayo -- cookbooks are filled with so-called hide-and-eat recipes.

But an improved diet will do only so much if a child remains largely sedentary.

"Parents used to tell kids to go out and play and come home when the streetlights come on, but we're not comfortable doing that anymore," said Dr. John Beckerman, a pediatrician in Barrington and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "There are fewer opportunities for exercise, and we're seeing the downside of those lifestyle changes."

Since few kids are bound to like -- or stick to -- a regimented fitness program, parents are turning to more creative ways to get their heart rates' up.

Trampolines, for one, have become an increasingly popular trend. Just check out Xtreme Trampolines in Buffalo Grove, which caters to dozens of birthday parties each weekend.

Located at 950 Busch Parkway, the facility features commercial grade trampolines with five separate courts and a giant foam pit. Play dodgeball or basketball, just jump around or even check out "Airobics," a low-impact workout that mimics different types of sports movements at an estimated 1,000 calories per class, owner Eric Beck said.

"We get some pretty sweaty people in here," said Beck, who also owns Xtreme Trampolines in Carol Stream. "It's just fun, especially in the winter when kids find it's a way to get their energy out."

Although Dr. Beckerman recommends caution, Beck cites an American Academy of Pediatrics journal article showing Xtreme Trampolines' injury rate to be 2 in 1,000 jumpers, compared to 15 per 1,000 football players or 21 per 1,000 soccer players.

Dr. Beckerman says our need for a more active lifestyle is crucial given the startling statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents in the U.S. has nearly tripled since 1980. He also said two-thirds of adults are overweight.

He recommends the 5-4-3-2-1 Go plan, which, in addition to nutrition guidelines, urges two hours or less of nonschool-related screen time each day, and at least one hour of physical activity.

Ed Gagnon, general manager of Dave and Buster's in Addison, said the establishment features several interactive games that get kids moving.

There's Speed of Light, in which players quickly stretch, jump and bend to try and hit roughly 30 discs that light up. There's also Pump It Up, a dance simulator game that Gagnon describes as an electronic version of Twister.

"You sweat doing that more than you would at the gym," Gagnon said. "There are definitely some kids who are obsessed with it."

Getting your child moving doesn't need to be a drain on your wallet.

Orbit Skate Center in Palatine, for example, is one of several roller rinks across the country that teamed to fight childhood obesity through kidsskatefree.com. Each week, Orbit will email two free skate passes for children 12 and under.

Stores -- and even libraries -- are stocking a growing number of "exergames" on their shelves. Video games such as "Kinect Adventures," "WarioWare Smooth Moves," "Wii Fit," "Dance Dance Revolution," "Punch-Out!!" and "EA Sports Active 2" are popular draws with kids and families alike.

"Although they're certainly not as good as going out for a walk, a ride or a run, it's a big improvement from laying around on the couch," Dr. Beckerman said. "A lot of pediatrics is about prevention, and moving can lessen the risk of many long-term health consequences."

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