Approximately 1 in 5 children in the U.S. have obesity. The obesity epidemic in the U.S., which affects about 10.4% of children between 2 years and 5 years of age and more than 23 million children and teens in total, is estimated to cost our nation $117 billion per year in direct medical expenses and indirect costs.
Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases. Here are some tips for preventing childhood obesity:
1. Set a Good Example.
- The first step in preventing childhood obesity is for parents and caregivers to make healthy lifestyle choices themselves.
- Obesity increases the risk for serious medical problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease—in children and adults—and healthy decisions can help your family reduce these risks.
2. Schedule Regular Wellness Exams for Your Child.
- At these checkups, your pediatrician will perform a complete physical examination, answer questions, address concerns about your child's development, administer immunizations and monitor your child’s growth—height, weight, and body mass index (BMI)—to make sure it is within a healthy range.
- Keep in mind that when you discuss your child’s weight- the goal isn’t weight loss, it is to develop healthy habits!
3. Help Your Child Develop Healthy Eating Habits.
- Adequate nutrition provided by a balanced diet is essential to help children grow and develop properly.
- Encourage your child to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
- Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans for protein.
- Limit foods that are high in fat, calories and sugar.
- Limit sugar sweetened beverages.
- Portion control also is important to help prevent obesity.
- Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
- Eat together at the table as often as possible. This gives everyone support in making their healthy choices together!
4. Encourage Your Child to be Physically Active Every Day.
- It's recommended that children get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day.
- Good choices include simply playing outside; bicycling or hiking with the whole family; playing tag, jumping rope, brisk walking, chores like washing the car or raking; and organized activities like dance class, martial arts, and youth sports teams.
- Help kids understand the benefit of being physically active. Teach them that physical activity gives them strong bones, lower blood pressure, better sleep, lower stress, higher self-esteem and greater chances at managing weight!
5. Encourage Enough Sleep.
- Studies show that children who regularly get fewer than the recommended number of hours of sleep are at higher risk for being overweight.
- School-aged children usually need about 10 hours of sleep each night—younger children need about 12 hours and adolescents need about 9 hours.
6. Limit Your Child's "Screen" Time.
- Children often spend too much time in front of a screen—such as the television, computer, iPad or tablet, smartphone, or video game system.
- Limit screen time to fewer than two hours per day on these activities.
- Children under two years of age should not watch television.
- Have a family game time, walk or an activity that involves movement rather than sitting!
7. Grocery Shop Together.
- Teach your child about making healthy decisions and food choices.
- Involve your child in planning and preparing your family's meals—even very young children can help wash fruits and vegetables or stir ingredients—and look together for ways to make your child's favorite meals healthier.
8. Avoid Teasing Your Child about His or Her Weight.
- Don't make comments about your child's weight—or comment about your own weight issues—in front of your child.
- Focus on healthy, positive lifestyle changes and make sure your child does not relate his or her self-worth, or the value of other people, to body size.
Start simple and get the whole family involved for the greatest chance of success!
With these tips, you can help prevent childhood obesity and develop your own healthy habits too!