Fakies, nollies and kickflips. Skateboard tricks and the lifestyles of the kids who practice them could be a key to fitness into adulthood.
A recent study by Johns Hopkins University researchers said regularly skating, Rollerblading and biking increase children's chances of fighting the flab as they grow. The odds were better than for those who played baseball and other organized, and often seasonal, sports. And better than for those in daily gym class, though those activities also helped kids keep slim.
The study, published in January's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, was one more among the many seeking solutions to the nation's growing obesity epidemic. But it's one researchers believe will fuel the push for more school and after-school activities. And skaters and their parents say it could help the unindoctrinated appreciate the benefits of some ramps and an outlaw spirit.
Media attention to skating usually only comes from events such as Mountain Dew's extreme sports tour at Camden Yards and, this month, from a YouTube video of a city police officer berating and manhandling a skateboarder in Baltimore's Inner Harbor; skateboarding is illegal there.
"Skateboarding is not a sport; it's a way of life, a culture," said Jason Chapman, a longtime skater and the 34-year-old
owner of Charm City Skatepark in Canton. "You don't go out and play one game and go home. You skate all the time and every day. I still skate every day, and I'd hate to see what I'd look like if I didn't."
His park, inside a warehouse abutting an increasingly gentrified neighborhood, was filled on a recent midafternoon with several skateboarders and a few Rollerbladers and bike riders. Most everyone knew everyone's name.
Jimi Hulson, who turns 12 tomorrow, and 12-year-old Jeff Hatfield come regularly to the park. But they also skate in their eastern Baltimore County neighborhoods and the city. "I'll always skate, even if I don't get to go pro," said Jeff.
And they challenged anyone to say skating is not a hard workout. "You've gotta push, use your legs," said Jimi.
Jimi's father, also named Jimi Hulson, said his son picked up a board several years ago and never stopped riding, though he scaled back to play soccer.
The senior Hulson is a lifelong athlete and said he likes skateboarding because he believes it is a good cardiovascular workout, builds muscle strength and confidence, and comes with a community that provides encouragement.
The Hopkins study made no mention of the dangers associated with skating or any other sport, but Hulson said his son has not been hurt skating. Chapman, the skate park owner, said some wrist and ankle injuries do occur. Helmets are recommended but not required.
"If Jimi skates Monday through Sunday, I can tell he feels good," said the senior Hulson. "He also eats really well, including something green every day. I know he'll always be in good shape."
Brenda Welty brings her 13-year-old son, Dakota, from York, Pa., to Canton five days a week and agreed skating is good exercise. Dakota's effort has won him sponsorships to skate, and recently, she said, it's also brought high marks from Dakota's doctor for his muscle tone.
But not all kids are in good shape. About 16 percent of adolescents are overweight or obese, three times the number in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have shown about 85 percent of overweight kids become overweight adults.
The CDC says more than a third of high-schoolers do not regularly engage in physical activity, and almost two-thirds of 9- to 13-year-olds do not participate in organized activity after school.
All the slacking, along with video-game playing and processed-food eating, among other possible evils, may be to blame for more than a weight problem that researchers say frequently troubles people through their lives. Medical problems surfacing at younger ages are costly in human and health care terms.
Researchers, including those at Hopkins, have endeavored not only to show prevention is easier than treatment, but what methods of prevention work best.
The Hopkins study included 3,345 mostly healthy-weight teens in grades eight through 12 who were surveyed on their participation in physical-education class and after-school activities. The researchers followed up five years after they left school to check their height and weight.
They found that among after-school activities, the likelihood of being an overweight adult was reduced 48 percent for those who skated or biked more than four times a week. For those who played soccer or other organized sports three or four times a week, the odds of being overweight later were reduced 20 percent.
The researchers found that jogging, dancing and gymnastics did not significantly reduce the chances of being overweight as an adult. Perhaps that's because some saw them as social activities or because those children did no other activities like those who may have also run or jumped rope for preparation for other sports.
At school, students reduced their odds of being overweight by 5 percent for each day of the week they took gym class.
The data underscored the role of gym and after-school activities in preventing weight gain into adulthood, said Robert Wm. Blum, the study's lead author and chairman of the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health.
Researchers aren't pushing one sport over another, rather emphasizing that regular activity early on made the difference.
"We are saying that in the name of 'cost-cutting,' the elimination of gym classes might, in the words of Ben Franklin, be 'penny wise and pound foolish,'" Blum said.
Schools, however, face hurdles that include federal rules, competing mandates and limited resources.
The federal No Child Left Behind law, for example, has meant cuts to gym and other subjects in favor of math and reading, according to a report released Feb. 20 by the Center on Education Policy, which examined 349 of the nation's elementary school systems. Since 2002, about 44 percent shifted minutes to accommodate the law, and physical education lost an average of 40 minutes per week, or 35 percent.
But schools that participate in federal lunch programs also have to complete plans that spell out how they will improve nutrition and expand physical education.
Maryland requires students to earn a half-credit of gym class between ninth and 12th grades, which is a half-year of class every day or a year of class a couple times a week. All districts meet the minimum, said Mike Mason, specialist for physical education at the State Department of Education.
School officials and the legislatures are constantly discussing the mix, he said, and bills have been introduced to do everything from funding more recreation centers to collecting more data on student health.
Education and health-related groups have been pushing for a national standard of at least 60 minutes of age-appropriate physical activity most or all days.
One of them is the Skokie, Ill.-based nonprofit group Action for Healthy Kids.
Renate Myler, a spokeswoman, said poor nutrition and inactivity lead not only to health problems but diminished academic performance and raised school and health care costs.
"Schools are the ideal setting for bringing about change because of the unique ability to reach all children and foster positive behaviors that can last a lifetime," she said.
That kind of commitment isn't hard for skaters, said Chapman from the skate park.
"We eat skateboarding, breathe skateboarding and live skateboarding," he said.
Adolescent Physical Activities as Predictors of Young Adult Weight
To examine the link between exercising as a kid and young-adult weight.
No link was found if the activities were fewer than three times a week.
The odds of being an overweight adult decreased 48 percent for kids skateboarding, Rollerblading, roller skating and bicycling more than four times a week.
The chances of being an overweight adult decreased by 20 percent for those swimming or playing baseball, softball, basketball, soccer or football three or four times a week.
Jogging, walking, jumping rope or taking karate, gymnastics or dancing didn't predict decreased odds of staying slim.
Each day that students took physical-education class decreased their odds of being an overweight adult by 5 percent, and those who participated in gym five days a week were 28 percent more likely to be normal-weight adults than their peers who did not.
Source: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine