An important way to set your kids up for successful adulthood is to give them the tools they need to live an active and healthy lifestyle. With childhood obesity on the rise, parents need to teach kids healthy habits early in order to avoid health problems.
“Children who are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, experience feelings of isolation and struggle with self-esteem,” said Asma Khan, DO, a pediatric physician at OSF HealthCare.
Maintaining a healthy weight during childhood can help eliminate the risk of health problems now and in the future.
“Starting healthy habits early is the best way to maintain a healthy weight,” Dr. Khan said.
Here’s how to raise healthy kids who grow into healthy adults, according to Dr. Khan.
1. Teach about hunger and fullness cues
Sometimes when the snacks are near, it’s easy just to eat when we’re feeling bored or sad. Kids need to be taught how to recognize when they’re hungry and when they’re full, so they know when to eat and when to stop.
2. Use child-sized plates
Using a child-sized plate is a great way to gauge how much food your child needs to eat in a meal. Half of the plate should be filled with fruits and veggies, and the other half should be some kind of lean protein – like fish, chicken or beans – and a whole grain – like oatmeal, whole wheat bread or brown rice.
3. Be a good role model
Have you ever heard your child say something that you know they learned from you? Kids imitate what they see the grownups in their lives do.
“Make lifestyle changes together as a family. As a parent, you can’t expect kids to change if you’re not willing to make healthy changes,” Dr. Khan said.
Go for a walk or bike ride, swim with your children and play with them at the park. Your kids will see you living an active life and want to imitate it.
4. Healthy snacks and drinks
Snacks high in sugar and fat can cause weight and other health problems. Limit snacks and drinks like soda, juice, sports drinks, chips, cookies, candy and cupcakes to a treat for special occasions. Opt for carrots and hummus, an apple or kale chips instead.
“I also tell parents to limit the junk food that comes into the house. There isn’t as much temptation to eat junk food if it’s not in the house,” Dr. Khan said.
5. Encourage daily physical activity
It’s important for kids to get up and get moving. Not only will it help control kids’ weight, but increased physical activity is also associated with strengthening bones, decreasing blood pressure and reducing anxiety.
“Aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day,” said Dr. Khan.
Even 15-minute spurts of activity throughout the day make a difference. It can be playing a game of tag in the yard, grooving along to dance videos or going for a bike ride around the block.
6. Cut screen time
Too much screen time has proven detrimental to kids’ overall health and well-being. About two hours a day is the recommendation, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Remove phones and other electronic devices from kids’ rooms at night and limit screen time during the day. This will ensure kids are getting enough sleep and physical activity — both important factors for living a healthy life.
Put them in control
Not sure where to start? Ask your pediatrician.
If you’re making too many diet and lifestyle changes at one time, kids might be resistant. Get kids involved in the healthy lifestyle. Let them help decide on one or two lifestyle changes you’ll make as a family.
Kids also like to feel in control of their situation. Take them grocery shopping with you to pick out a few new fruits or veggies they’d like to try. When the groceries are home, get kids involved by having them put the food away or help you make a salad or other dish for dinner. Keeping them involved will help kids feel empowered to make healthy lifestyle decisions as adults.