Childhood obesity leaves kids vulnerable to developing health problems later in life. These five tips can help your children avoid that fate.
Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic, affecting 18.5% of U.S. children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two big contributors to the epidemic are a nearly constant access to high-calorie snack foods and drinks and increasingly sedentary lives.
Helping your child avoid obesity begins with feeding him whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products, but it also takes some mental shifts in the way both you and your child approach food and physical activity. Here are a few ways to start:
- Recognize the problem. Numerous surveys have shown that parents of overweight or obese children often think their children are a healthy weight. That makes it difficult for both parents and children to make healthy lifestyle changes. Your child’s pediatrician can offer an objective opinion, so discuss weight at each well-child visit—and be open to any advice the doctor has.
- Get them moving. Children between ages 6 and 17 need, at a minimum, 60 minutes of physical activity a day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, only about 20% of children meet this guideline. Help your children find activities they enjoy both indoors and out, whether playing on a school or community sports team, riding a bike or simply running around the playground.
- Put an end to endless snacking. Rather than let your children graze throughout the day, establish (and stick with) scheduled meal and snack times. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends children eat three meals a day, with younger kids having at least two snacks and older kids at least one snack a day. Older kids going through growth spurts or those who are physically active may need to eat more. In addition, eat at a designated space, such as the table, rather than on-the-go.
- Encourage a healthy perspective on food. The AND warns that offering treats or special-occasion foods as a reward, as well as restricting foods, like dessert, as a punishment, can both lead to weight gain. In addition, children can turn to food to deal with emotions they don’t know how to process, just as adults can. Find ways to reward success or deter bad behavior that don’t involve food. If your child seems hungry all the time, have a heart-to-heart conversation about how she’s feeling to see if overwhelming emotions are driving her to eat.
- Eat together. It seems simple, but dining together as a family can have a significant impact on your child’s weight. Research suggests that family meals encourage a higher intake of vegetables; fiber, calcium and iron, while also helping kids maintain healthier weights. Although it can seem difficult to coordinate schedules that allow for family meals, making the effort can have a big impact on your child’s long-term health.
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