Griffin Moise is only 16 months old. But dad Sean is already making sure that his young son, having now mastered walking, gets conditioned to a lifetime of physical fitness — starting now.
Sean and his wife, Fiona, both nurses, have decided that until Griffin is at least 2, they will keep him away from screens of any kind and instead, play with him hands on, inside and outside.
"They say the first two to three years of life are really important developmentally for children and to set the habits now," said the 41-year-old Forestville father.
On a weekday morning in March he has brought Griffin to My Gym, a Santa Rosa fitness studio that features organized exercise classes designed specifically for very young kids, ranging from age 9 all the way down to 3 months.
In this class, "Waddlers" from 14 to 22 months old get a workout with their parents, presented with music, imagination, motion and quick changes in activities, all choreographed in a way that seems more like play than exercise. The room is as colorful as a tropical fruit basket and filled with balls, swings, monkey bars and other interactive toys.
Experts say that is the key to inspiring kids, growing up in a world that is increasingly sedentary and filled with calorie-laden "entertainment" foods, to get moving.
"Many parents are so stressed and so busy. They don't tend to play with their kids," said Dr. Patricia Kulawiak, a family physician at the Santa Rosa Community Health Centers' Southwest Clinic.
"One of the main tenets of positive parenting is spending time engaging in play, with no corrections. It's all about following the child's lead."
A host of social changes have conspired in the last generation to put children at risk for many health problems that come with obesity.
"When I was a kid, we played outside until the street lights went on. Now parents don't feel safe letting their kids do that," said Lorna Brown, 40. She opened My Gym 10 years ago when she found herself with a new baby and feeling stir-crazy, wondering what to do.
A former competitive Scottish dancer and teacher beginning in early childhood, she was used to vigorous activity.
But now, so many kids, she added, get driven to school and have two working parents too tired to play with them when they come home.
"And they now have so many sedentary activities with iPhones and iPads and TVs and computers, I think kids have a hard time just not having their eyes on something," Brown said. "Unfortunately, we as parents help create that habit. You have to put the screens down yourself."
Physician Marie Mulligan, medical director of the Southwest clinic, said that while there has been some encouraging progress made among preschoolers in terms of prevention, there are estimates that one-third of all Americans born after 2000 are at risk for developing diabetes in their lifetimes. Among Latinos, the risk is 50 percent.
"We've seen prediabetics who are not even 10 years old," she lamented.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend kids get an hour of physical activity daily, mostly vigorous movement like running, bike riding and climbing, with some muscle strengthening as well.
Brown incorporates all of that into each structured workout, with skill stations and activities aimed at building balance, agility, strength and coordination. She also introduces team play with soccer balls and gymnastics, laying an early foundation for a lifetime of sports.