Pull Your Own Weight: Functional childhood obesity prevention and rehabilitation – A practical definition

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A column by Rick Osbourne

Instead of addressing childhood obesity in the conventional ways (as a nutritional, physiological, psychological, socio-economic, or an environmental issue – all of which have their own validity), the functional childhood obesity prevention and rehabilitation specialist addresses childhood obesity as a functional disability, no different than a torn rotator cuff, or a case of planter fasciitis. In these instances the injury/condition hinders or prevents its victims from functioning in ways they otherwise could if it were not for the injury/condition.

A torn rotator cuff for example, hinders or prevents (depending on the severity) a person from climbing or throwing in ways they otherwise could without the injury. Planter fasciitis hinders or prevents a person from walking, running, jumping, or skipping in ways they otherwise could without the injury. By the same token, excess body fat (depending on the severity) hinders or prevents a person from walking, running, jumping, skipping, climbing, crawling, or even getting in and out of an easy chair in ways they otherwise could without the excess body fat.

Directly Addressing Kids’ Functional Ability

In all three instances, directly addressing and gradually improving a participant’s functional ability over time effectively reduces and/or hopefully eliminates the problem, the injury, the functional disability. One simple example of treating obesity as a functional disability begins with the common knowledge that children (and adults) who can perform at least one conventional pull up are almost never obese.*

That being the case, giving participants regular access to a set of height adjustable pull up straps (a.k.a. suspension training straps) and a technique called leg assisted pull ups (jumping and pulling at the same time) allows anyone a place to begin successfully, as well as the way to make frequent, highly-motivating progress.

So, from a relatively easy starting point the grips are gradually raised (one inch every other week) over time, until participants finally run out of leg assistance and they’re able to perform conventional pull ups. Once achieved, simply maintaining the ability (which requires decent eating and exercise habits along with 30 seconds/week to practice) means they’ve armed themselves against obesity, and a myriad of related problems that follow in its wake, for life.

Prevention versus Rehab

With those who are not yet obese (over 90% of elementary school age children), but who may fall victim to obesity in the future (33% of adults are currently obese), there’s no need to alter their eating or exercise habits. At this preventative stage all they need is access to the above mentioned equipment and technique and most will not only master pull ups within a matter of months, but they’ll understand it and be motivated by the process of growing stronger (being strong is always cool, while being weak is always uncool) along with their friends.

If they’re among the 10% who currently suffer from obesity (the rehab phase) THEY WILL HAVE TO IMPROVE THEIR EATING AND EXERCISE HABITS in order to develop the ability to do conventional pull ups. But, once they understand that developing the ability to do even one single pull up eliminates perhaps the biggest problem in their young lives, they can become motivated enough to make the necessary changes (of their own accord) in order to achieve this goal. Its simplicity and its ability to cultivate kids’ natural, intrinsic motivation (no carrots or sticks, no positive or negative reinforcements are necessary) is the functional approach’s strongest suit.

*The same strategy works using parallel bar dips, handstand push-ups, or rope climbing, etc.


Rick Osbourne is former physical educator and a pioneer in the field of functional childhood obesity prevention. He currently serves as President of the Pull Your Own Weight Foundation which is an Illinois based, 501c3, not for profit organization whose focus is functional childhood obesity prevention. He’s written and published three books in this field, the latest of which is entitled Beating Childhood Obesity Now: A Simple Solution for Parents and Educators. He’s the Examiner’s national childhood obesity prevention correspondent. He writes an online column for The Edvocate. And you can connect with Rick via Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook.

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