Are you concerned about your child’s habits when it comes to eating and being physically active? Are you worried they may be overweight?
If so, there are steps you can take as a parent to help get your kids on the right track to a healthier future.
Parents can encourage their children to adopt healthier eating and activity habits, said Dr. Amy Christison, medical director of Healthy Kids U, a pediatric weight management program at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois.
“We want children to receive a message about working on their health rather than their looks so that we promote positive body-esteem and confidence,” Dr. Christison said. “What you want is to limit yo-yo dieting and promote a healthier lifestyle, that not just the child, but the entire family can maintain.
“It starts with a balanced approach to living. Parents, the way they model how they eat and how they are active, can have a huge impact on how children behave themselves.”
Here are six tips Dr. Christison offers for parents:
1. Work as a team
“It doesn’t matter what body size a family member has. Everybody can benefit from having healthier habits,” she said. “It’s about sharing the responsibility to work on habits together as a family so everyone can be healthier now and in the future.”
2. Avoid using the word “diet”
“For most children, fad dieting or conforming to a very restrictive diet can have problems. I try to avoid the word, ‘diet.’” Dr. Christison said. “The focus, especially for children, is in developing healthy habits so their bodies stay strong all of their lives. It’s really about portion, frequency and balance. When someone hears the word, ‘diet,’ they often think about restriction. They then focus on what they can’t have rather than what they can have.”
3. Develop guidelines for the entire family
“The general guideline is to work toward five servings (the size of a tennis ball) of fruits and vegetables a day,” she said. “One way to get there is to make half of your plate fruits and veggies. If you’re still hungry after 20 minutes, you can have seconds; more fruits and veggies, please.”
And reduce the amount of added sugar – especially in beverages like soda, sports drinks and tea – it’s just a lot of empty calories. Instead, work on drinking more water – six to eight glasses per day, Dr. Christison said.
It’s important, too, to have structured eating – breakfast, lunch, one snack and dinner. Find other things to do instead of eating when it’s not time yet, such as playing a game, having a dance party, going outside, drawing or drinking more water.
“There isn’t an evil food, per say – it’s about minimizing things that are less desirable – fried food, fast food, desserts,” she said. “Plan how often you will allow yourselves to eat these foods as a family like limiting to one dessert on Sunday and having fruit the rest of the week.”
4. Limit screen time and get sweaty
“I like to suggest limiting screen time to two hours or less a day,” Dr. Christison said. “Getting active is very important, too. We suggest almost an hour a day of moderate to vigorous movement. Get sweaty. Do it together as a family. That hour can even be broken up in 15-minute increments throughout the day.
“Also, using technology can make activities more enjoyable for children. Count steps using an app, stream videos to dance to or to do cardio workouts to,” she said.
5. Get the appropriate amount of sleep
“The way our body metabolizes and the way we grow all has to do with our sleep,” Dr. Christison said. “Children with good, uninterrupted sleep tend to be more healthy.”
Some guidelines, she suggested, include turning screens off one hour before bedtime, lights off and school-age children should get nine hours of sleep.
6. Seek out community or after-school opportunities
For parents unsure how to get kids started on being more active, Dr. Christison recommends looking to see what after-school programs may be offered or what partnerships your community has available.
For example, the Healthy Kids U program developed by OSF Children’s Hospital and the University of Illinois College of Medicine is being offered at YMCA locations in Peoria and Streator. The program’s aim is to work with kids and their families to develop healthy eating habits and to promote activity.
Dr. Christison reminds parents who are concerned about their child’s weight to have a consultation with their primary care provider.
“I like to remind parents that making lifestyles changes for a healthier weight and body is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “Start small with something you think you can do as a family and then build on what you have achieved.”