Interview with Magnus Scheving, star of LazyTown and children's health ambassador

Published on Tuesday, 16 April 2013 16:02
Written by Magnus Scheving

Anyone who has watched their kids at a playground or park will know that most are naturally active and love nothing more than running around and playing. However, most of us don't actually realise the importance of kids swinging from the monkey bars and running around playing.

Encouraging kids to be active is an incredibly important part of your child's development and can help them to establish healthy patterns that will last into adulthood.

No one knows more about inspiring families to do this than Magnus Scheving, the creator and star of the children's television show LazyTown, which aims to inspire children (and their families) to lead healthier lives by making the concepts fun and accessible.

Scheving, who plays Sportacus in the show, is a father and two-times European Champion of aerobics, has even teamed up with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, to inspire kids to get moving at an early age and have fun doing it, which will help them build good habits to last a lifetime.

Q: Tell us a bit about Lazytown

A: Lazytown was created twenty years ago in Iceland and basically I wanted to create something that would motivate kids to make healthy lifestyle choices. The challenge was that kids are not really interested in health, it's a boring subject, so you need to turn it into a game. So what we did, we wrote a book about Lazytown and it came out and became a live show and then a radio station. So for more than ten years I travelled round the world, talked to kids and parents and found out that kids are exactly the same wherever you go:  They don't necessarily love sport all the time, they just love to move. So if your kid doesn't move, run around and be active then there is something wrong.  Parents want kids to be safe and educated, eat right, early to bed, follow the rules, able to share things, not lie and cheat and maybe clean their room, that's it. So we made characters around this for Lazytown.

You have superheroes, Sportacus, you have Stephanie the girl with the pink wig and you have the laziest villain on the planet called Robbie Rotten.  We made it into a TV show and it went to over 170 countries. Governments then started to call us and ask us to do campaigns. We tested a lot of different campaigns to see if it would work to get kids healthy. The campaigns were from Change 4Life in the UK, Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico, the President of Chile and Columbia, Spain and then Mr Obama. Mr Obama called so we went to the White House and created a campaign called Let's Move. We had done a campaign called Move sixteen years ago, so it fitted really well with our message. So we went to the White House and I almost knocked down the crystal chandelier in the White House in the costume, so it was really really funny.  It went round the world and in the United States as a commercial. So that's the story of Lazytown.

Q: So, how important is it to get kids interested in sport at an early age?

A: It's extremely important, I believe kids are superheroes, aged 0-7 they all are superheroes. They know how to move, they move correctly, they basically eat when they want to eat and they sleep when they want to sleep. So it's after seven that we parents, we basically destroy them, we basically start to do things like we tell them to sit too much, we give them foods that are not healthy. So we the parents and their society, schools and the whole system, are taking kids who are already superheroes, they need to stay that way. They smile more, they are happy, they are not worried about anything, This is when kids look up to the parents, this is when they imitate what they do, not necessarily what they say, but what they do.

So this is the influence you can have if you're going to make your kids healthy. So if you move a lot as a Dad, the kid is going to move more. If you talk to them, if you say you have to clean your room because you are a messy kid, the kid is going to think that for five years, I am a messy kid. But if you say you have to clean your room because you're organised, if you say that for five years, the kid is going to think well maybe I am organised and I'm going to clean the room. So I think it's important to get kids in early age to do active things, not necessarily sport, it could be anything, and thinking that anything is possible and turn boring things into a game. Grownups are normally boring; they don't come up with great ideas, they don't really take things and turn it into a game like they used to. So they should do more of that.

Q: So obviously you're saying that parents should set a good example and help install the positive mental attitude in the kids at an early age. But is there anything else they can do to encourage their kids to be fit and healthy?

A: I think that it's how you speak, what you do and what is around the house. So if you think about your life and you think, because most parents don't want to be told what to do, and no one wants to be told what to do, so Lazytown never does that. We just give people ideas, here's some ideas that will motivate them to do different things. So if you watch a Lazytown episode, kids move more after watching Lazytown, that's a fact. Parents also like the message, they look at Lazytown as a tool to raise healthy kids. They can use it – ah see Sportacus is eating sports candy and that's why maybe you should try it. Parents want ideas, so what they can do is turn things into a game. So let's say for example I had a kid and I picked it up from Kindergarten school. We made a game for one another, so he had different clothing and he didn't like to get dressed, he would go – oh I don't want to put the hat on and the socks and everything. So we picked red socks, striped socks, red hat, blue hat, scarf and each one of them had different movements. So if he would be wearing it when I would pick him up, I'd need to do moves, something that he could laugh at, something funny, make a frog jumping 20 jumps, push up on one arm, anything, stand up on one leg, walk backwards, anything. So when I picked him up he said - Dad look, I'm wearing the red socks - and he'd been all day thinking about it – when my Dad comes I'm going to show him my socks -  it's really important. Then I said I have a red hat and he needed to do it. 

It was so funny when we met one another that we did all the jumps and all the parents were looking at us like we were crazy but we had fun and we smiled, both of us, and it was great. You can also maybe use cards, 52 different cards, get your family together, write something funny that you have never done before, walk on a mountain, swim in a lake, whatever you want to do. And you write that and you put it in a bowl and then on Saturday you pick out one card and then you do it. So kids love that. You can think about how you eat dinner.  I suggest using candles and making it look really cosy and play music to make it five star. I have made five star breakfasts for my kids and now they make it for me.  They choose the menu and then we went out shopping together and bought something to cook, and they love it when they're involved. You have to involve kids because if you tell them, they don't remember. If you show them, they might remember, but if you involve them, it's going to stay with them for life. So it's extremely important to involve them.

Q: So what could schools and the government do to also help get kids active?

A:  I think the main problem is that there is too much emphasis on being sat down when it should be on having kids standing, moving and being active.

Q: During lessons?

A: Yes. So I would say try to not have the whole day sitting down.  The teacher should be active, he should stand up before the class and do some moves, he can do superhero moves from Sportacus, he can use sounds and music. I think don't be serious, schools have to turn it into a game. They need more physicality, some kids don't even like sport and they just don't want to do it. So maybe they want to dance and maybe they want to do something else, maybe they want to run, different things, be creative.

Q: On that note about some kids not liking sport, why do you think that they don't like sport?

A: It could be a lot of different reasons, because sport is something where you pick the best ones. So you pick in a team and if you are not good at sport, why would you like it if you are the last one who is always picked? So you need to tailor make things as no one is the same. People are different, but at the same time, they love to move. There's thousands of games, there's thousands of games made about card games, there's thousands of games about movement, there's thousands of games about balls.

There's hundreds of things you can do, music and movement, maybe you want to play in a band and if you're in a band you jump a lot.  I think being healthy is about balance, you should be in balance and you should find a school with a balance, so if there's too much sitting, it's not correct. If there's a balance between sitting and movement, that's great. That's it.

Q: So can you tell us a bit more about your campaign with the First Lady?

A: Basically with the government, we did an energy campaign.  An energy campaign is like a food pyramid but upside down and you put stickers on of what you ate each day for a month.  I was supposed to be an expert in this and I had no idea what my kid was eating.  So we did an energy book, where you have six glasses of water every day, five vegetables and fruit and milk and dairy and whatever you need and then you have stickers. What happened is that you came home and before you go to sleep, you sat down with your kid and you say – so how was your day? – It was good – so what did you eat –Then when I looked at the book after 30 days very quickly I saw in pictures that my kid never ate fish or they never had an orange.

So when we did this campaign, kids said to the mum and dad, they look at this table, why don't we try this one? What is that, can we try that? Obesity started to go down in Iceland and the health minister on the news said the reason is Lazytown. And then we were making that a campaign, for example in Chile and with the First Lady that is motivating this. So we have for each month, we have the energy campaign, we have the move campaign, we have walk to the moon. We walked to the moon for example with kids, where they wore a pedometer for a week and they wrote down how many steps they did and then at the end they had walked the distance to the moon. 24,000 kids signed up in 2 days. So we've done a lot of different things so the campaigns are different, it's tailor made for different needs.

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