Year of Exercise Inspiration

The year 2011 was full of interesting approaches to getting kids to move more. Tufts University student Christina Zagarino received a scholarship that financed the development of an idea inspired by her earlier experience of working at a circus camp created for tween-age kids.

Mentored by bona fide circus performers, the attendees spent up to eight hours a day vigorously practicing. Zagarino herself learned to juggle. Once a week, they put on a show. She later told journalist Sam Baltrusis,

I noticed that these kids were exercising and having a good time and I had the realization that the circus is very powerful. I started to think about how I could harness circus to promote physical engagement with children.

She created an interactive TV series featuring circus-based physical activities. Designed for the younger set, the three- to five-year-olds, “Big Top Circus” encourages them to watch TV and bounce around at the same time, in the safety of home.

This sort of diversion is especially needed by kids who live in urban congestion, or, for that matter, remote areas. Or suburbs. Or dangerous neighborhoods.

The five episodes never aired, but Zagarino learned from the experience enormously, to the point where, if she were to remake the series today, she would do some things differently. The point, after all — especially for a developmental psychologist — is not to push a product, but to internalize the principle that we all need to be learning, every step of the way.

Building playgrounds as safe play spaces

Also in 2011, a non-profit group (founded in 1996) whose mission is “saving play for America’s children,” built its 2,000th playground. With an estimated 14 million American children living in poverty, that’s a lot of kids who have no safe play spaces or opportunities to connect with their peers in healthy, fun environments. KaBOOM! also offers Adventure Courses, Multi-sport Courts, and mobile playgrounds that can be set up for short-term stays.

Aside from construction activity, the organization specializes in finding appropriate play spaces and in advocating, to municipal governments, the wisdom of instituting healthy play policies. Their literature says,

As of the end of 2018, KaBOOM! has directly built over 3,100 playgrounds. Combined with our other grants over our 20+ year history, KaBOOM! has built or improved over 17,000 playspaces.

Getting back to the prolific year of 2011, boxer Tim Witherspoon Jr., recuperating from shoulder surgery, looked around for something useful and compelling to do with his down time. The 2004 Golden Gloves Champion got himself certified as a personal trainer and made himself available at a boxing school to work with young people.

Reporter Adrian Fedkiw captured a quotation from Witherspoon:

Boxing is something that’s interesting. It’s not just running on a treadmill. It’s not just lifting a weight here, lifting a weight there. You’re learning a skill, and losing weight while you’re doing it. It’s a good workout.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Big Top Fitness’ Uses Circus Skills to Combat Childhood Obesity,”, 05/13/11
Source: “Spotlight: Christina Zagarino,”, 10/15/19
Source: “Building playgrounds for kids,”, undated
Source: “Local Pro Boxer Fights Childhood Obesity One Punch At A Time,”, 06/25/11
Image by Knight Foundation/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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