A recent study in Atlanta indicated that 1 million children in Georgia are obese. The percentage of overweight children in the United States is growing at an alarming rate, with 1 out of 3 kids now considered overweight or obese. When I heard these numbers I thought, “Wow! We need to create a health train and get every child, tween and teen to climb aboard!”
Here are a few fast tips for getting your children, tweens and teens on The Health Train.
1. Talk as a family about why choosing healthy food is important to your kid’s well-being
As kids reach for soda and sugary snacks to soothe themselves and quench their appetites, they may not be aware that the empty calories add up to health consequences. Soda is loaded with sugar (about 13 teaspoons per can) artificial sweeteners, caffeine and empty calories (about 150 in a regular soda). Choosing foods that are fuel for the body, rather than focusing on dieting is critical to health. Check out Dr. Lynne Printable Grocery List and ask your kids what they like. Have them make their own whole foods grocery lists and take them with you to then grocery store.
2. Make exercise part of your family’s day, every day
According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness children and teens need 60 minutes of activity each day for their health. Exercise can be done in as little as 15 minute increments. Walk the dog as a family, kick the soccer ball in the drive-way, or skip rope in between television commercials. That time is well spent and adds up to a daily exercise regimen for health and obesity prevention.
3. Compliment what your kids/teens do well
In our society we tend to focus on the poor choices our kids/teens make instead of focussing on what they do well. When your teen reaches for that apple instead of a cookie after school, comment on how that is a smart choice for their health. Join in when your teen goes for a bike ride or walks the perimeter of the shopping mall. Participating in health together with a positive mental attitude matters.
4. Focus on a positive body image for your teen
In the teen years, we can feel self-conscious as our bodies grow and change. Dieting becomes more problematic as teens may focus on limiting calories instead of eating whole foods for fuel and nutrition. Help your teen develop a positive body image by discussing that all body types are fine, we just want to develop the healthiest body for our own style and body type.
5. Skip the “Fat Talk”
Sometimes as parents, we talk a lot about fat and not enough about health. “Fat Talk” around the dinner table or with our friends models for our children and teens a lack of respect for ourselves and our bodies. Skip the comments like “I’m fat,” “I feel guilty cause I ate some cake,” and practice sentences like “My body enjoyed that healthy meal,” “It’s great to have a little cake, I just stop at one piece.” Read Dr. Robyn Silverman’s and Dr. Lynne Kenney’s collaborative article on “Hold the fat talk.”
6. Limit sedentary screen time
The TV, video games and time spent in front of the computer can be relaxing and even addicting. Keep an eye on how much screen time you and your kids are spending in your own home. After an hour of TV or computer time, get up and dance, do a few sit-ups, take a walk or play on the trampoline for a few minutes. Too much screen time means too much down-time for kids who need to move to stay healthy.
7. Sit down for family dinner
Research shows that families who dine together experience less teen obesity, teen pregnancy and addiction. Take the time to sit and eat as a family for 30 minutes or so each day. If dinner is a challenge due to sports and activities, sit down for breakfast. That time spent as a family adds up to better relationships and lifestyle choices. Check out Dr. Cuneo’s dinner together for more tips and ideas.
8. Eat less fast food
Fast food may be convenient in the short-run but disastrous in the long-run. Start by simply observing how often you all stop for fast food. A typical fast-food meal is 800-1,000 calories, about half of what your child or teen needs each day. A teen with moderate fitness activity who weighs 125 pounds needs 1,750 calories per day.
So if you do need the convenience, stop at places that offer salads (without the dressing or dressing on the side; salsa and greek yogurt are good dressings) or sandwiches with veggies.
Helping children, tweens, and teens focus on health and exercise instead of fat is boarding the train to better health.