Childhood obesity is now recognized as a public health priority, deemed a greater concern by experts than smoking and drug use. Elaina Lantrip, APRN for Renown Health Pediatrics, details what parents can do at home to help their children — and themselves — maintain a healthy weight.
Kids and teens enjoy the benefits of youthful energy and a robust metabolism. But it doesn’t mean they are immune to the pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits.
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an estimated 17.2 percent of U.S. children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese and another 16.2 percent are overweight. Because of those numbers, childhood obesity is now recognized as a public health priority. In fact, the American Heart Association deems it a greater concern for parents than smoking and drug abuse.
Lifestyle is largely to blame. Today, many diets are lower in nutrients and higher in sugars and unhealthy fats and kids aren’t as active as past generations. So what can you do at home to help your children (and yourself) maintain a healthy weight?
Get Moving at Least 30 Minutes Per Day
First: Get the entire family moving. All children need a minimum 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes each day for young people ages 6-17.
Keep your kids motivated with activities they enjoy. If they love sports, encourage them to join a team and practice at home several times a week. If team sports aren’t quite the right fit, try individual sports such as swimming, horseback riding, dance, golf, tennis, gymnastics, martial arts, yoga or running. Free play activities such as shooting baskets, riding bikes, playing tag, hiking or jumping rope are other great ways to stay active.
And be sure to join them! Exercising together as a family lends kids support while boosting their cognitive and psychological development. Remember that any level of activity is better than none — even if it’s just 10 minutes here and there. So set manageable goals you can achieve.
Nutrition Tips for the Whole Family
A nutritious diet also goes hand in hand with your family health goals. Skip the fast food and pre-packaged meals. Healthy home-cooked meals are possible with a little preparation. Rally your kids to help with the menu and shopping. Choose colorful veggies and fruits, high-quality carbs like quinoa and brown rice; lean proteins like poultry, fish and legumes; and low-fat dairy. Avoid soda and stick with water and milk. If needed, take the time to prepare a few healthy meals on your days off to make things easier during the workweek.
Take snack time as an opportunity to squeeze in a few more fruits and vegetables. Skip the chips and sweets and offer your kids some cherry tomatoes and low-fat dressing, carrots and hummus, or celery sticks and peanut butter. Occasional treats are OK, but don’t let them become a habit.
For picky eaters, you can also work to transition their palates to healthier options. For example, maybe your little one loves pasta plain or with butter sauce. First, get them use to their favorite pasta with cream sauce. Then switch the refined pasta for whole-grain pasta with cream sauce. And next try whole-grain pasta with cream sauce and tomato sauce mixed together to eventually reach the healthier meal of whole-grain pasta with chunky tomato sauce. You can make the switch with other foods too. Start with one of your child’s favorite foods and a list of healthier replacements, find the similarities between the two and work step by step toward transitioning.
When it comes to healthy lifestyle, good habits start at home. Give your kids a head start by encouraging exercise and healthy eating for all ages.
This article also appeared in the RGJ Health Source April 30.