Childhood obesity can lead to short- and long-term health problems— such as high blood pressure and diabetes— that can start at an early age. We all want the best for our children. But today, it’s not easy to avoid many unhealthy eating and activity habits that can make our kids weigh more than they should. For example, sweetened drinks, sugary cereals, high-fat snacks and fast foods add extra calories. Those extra calories do not burn off if your child spends hours each day in front of the television or computer rather than being active. It also means your child is not toning his or her most important muscle: the heart.
Parents can play an important role in helping their kids adopt heart-healthy habits early in life. One of the best ways to do that is to set a heart-healthy example. Children copy what mom and dad do. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics that you and your family can use to fight childhood and/or teen obesity.
1 Fast food, takeout and eating out can contribute extra calories if the items you choose are high in fat; are made with unhealthy cooking methods, such as deep frying; come in extra large portions; or have rich sauces and dressings. Also, try to avoid multi-tasking and eating, which means walking around the mall while sipping a milkshake or munching on a bag of fries. Just because you’re walking as you’re eating, doesn’t mean you burn all the calories you take in.
2 Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, including sodas, sweetened teas, smoothies and shakes, special waters and even juices that are high in calories. Try plain water or low- or non-fat milk. If your child wants chocolate milk on occasion, just add a little syrup or powder, not a big spoonful. Make a sugary drink a once-a-week special treat, not a daily staple. Get rid of soda in your fridge, as it has no health value, but can pack on the calories.
3 If you are concerned about your child’s weight, talk with your pediatrician.
4 Keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand to reach the goal of five servings per day.
5 Cooking at home as a family is not only fun, it gives you better control over what you eat, how your food is cooked and what portion sizes you serve.
6 Exclusively breastfeed your baby until at least six months, and once solid food is started, keep nursing until your child’s first birthday
7 Eat a diet rich in calcium for healthy bones and rich in fiber to promote digestion and reduce hunger. Include fish in your diet a few times a week and select lean cuts of meat.
8 Set a two-hour limit for time spent texting or sitting in front of the computer or television.
9 Try to eat meals together as a family. If you eat alone or eat at odd hours, you can develop bad habits, such as between-meal snacking, grazing, meals eaten on the run and too many desserts. Nibbling can add up quickly to an unhealthy diet.
10 Exercise at least an hour daily. You can break that up into smaller chunks during the day. For a fun activity, take an early-morning walk or after-dinner jog as a family. Go around the block, to the park or through the mall.
11 Make breakfast a daily habit. Your children will perform better at school if they have a solid breakfast. That does not mean a snack bar or high-fat bakery item. Breakfast should include whole grain bread or non-sugary cereals; some form of protein, such as low-fat cheese, yogurt, or eggs (use two whites for every yolk); and fresh fruit. Pack your child’s lunch with healthy snacks for the day, such as bite-sized vegetables, string cheese, fresh fruit or a cut-up pita and hummus.
12 Once you finish eating, leave the table and move your discussion elsewhere so you are less tempted to keep snacking on leftovers and second or third helpings.
These are just a few of the ways you can bring heart-healthy habits to your family.
The added bonus is that you will be more heart-healthy, too.