Aerobic classes for pre-school children may sound like the latest fad. But Annette Rawstrone, Deputy Editor of Nursery World discovered how the sessions are encouraging healthy adults of the future. When three-year-old Amber jokingly poked her grandfather’s tummy and asked if he ate a lot of junk food as a child he was offended. But he was also fascinated; especially when she went on to advise him to do exercises for his abdominals. Amber’s comments got the whole family talking about the health and fitness programme she was doing at her nursery in Ireland, to the extent that her aunt, Tanya Davie, started operating Stretch-n-Grow in the UK.
Current estimates are that one in three children are overweight and one in 10 children are obese. Eighty per cent of these obese children will become obese adults. Alarmingly obese children can show early warning signs of heart disease and they can also develop respiratory problems, diabetes, orthopaedic problems and it can cause of exacerbate asthma. On top of the possible health problems an overweight child may also have to deal with the psychological effects of being bigger than their peers.
It is in this worrying climate that Stretch-n-Grow is making great in-roads by encouraging children to develop healthy lifestyles at an early age. Tanya, who has a MSC in exercise and nutrition and is a trained teacher, says the programme is more than just an exercise class. ‘It has an effect on children across the board – from exercising their muscles to encouraging them to eat healthily and telling them why it is important to do so,’
she explains. ‘Young children are very capable of taking the fun message on board and it can lead to the whole family changing their lifestyle. ‘There’s not a month goes by when I’m not amazed by what the children come out with. I’ve known children to refuse sweets because it is not their treat day. They may be young but, if explained in a simple way, children can understand the impact of what they are doing to themselves and that eating healthy foods is good for their growing body. Get children at a young age and then you’ve got them for life.’
Tanya had been contemplating designing a family fitness programme to sell into large corporations, such as Astra-Zeneca when she came across Stretch-n-Grow . On seeing classes in Ireland, early February 2003 both Tanya and Deno were so impressed, they decided that this was something, if given the opportunity they would commit to 100%. A meeting was set with the founders Bob and Jill Manly who came over from the U.S for the initial meeting. Training was completed by May 2003 with a view to running ‘Summer Activities’ then a full a launch to market in September 2003.