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Childhood Obesity

Learn life-changing information about the prevalence of childhood obesity, and actionable steps that you can take to insure that the children in your life grow up happy and healthy.

Helping Your Overweight Child: Family Involvement Is Key

Experts acknowledge family support for healthful eating and eating regular meals together as two modifiable factors for family-based interventions. Learn how to involve the family and turn the key to health!

Helping Your Overweight Child: Family Involvement Is Key

For better or for worse, family passes on much more than genetics... The consensus of family decisions and behaviors can influence diet and exercise patterns of your child that may be long-lasting. Fortunately, research suggests targeting both parents and children as a family-based approach produces positive change for both generations.

Why Family Involvement Is Key

Family involvement is imperative for a number of reasons, including ongoing support and accountability. Making and modifying behaviors as a group also displaces the focus on your overweight child, as placing a heavy child on a diet or exercise program outside of the regular family routine can lead to embarrassment or alienation, subsequently producing minimal to short-term results. But getting the whole family involved synergizes efforts by keeping all members motivated to sustain lifelong habits. Think about it: When you were a kid, how easy would it have been for to eat healthy and stay active if other family members were eating potato chips and ice cream while watching hours of TV? (Probably not so simple...)

That being said, the first step in developing a healthy family lifestyle is for parents to examine and recognize their own self practices and how this shapes the behaviors of children. So if you want your child to develop smart habits, you must model the appropriate activities to point your child in the right direction. It is not merely a case of "Do as I say, not as I do," but rather an opportunity for you to implement healthier strategies for your kid to see and follow. Ultimately, it is imperative to lead by example as a parent or caregiver.

But before being able to lead by example, it is important to understand healthy behaviors yourself. Reaching out to external support can synergize your efforts as a family, as professional expertise can equip you with lasting skills and knowledge, ultimately resonating to other members and trickling down to your children. Primary care providers, pediatricians, registered dietitians, and counselors are all extremely valuable in crafting healthier habits and lowering both childhood and adulthood obesity rates.

Turning the Key to Health

While numerous factors influence childhood obesity, diet and exercise are two predominant factors. Along with this 9-step guide to helping your overweight child, the following tips can assist in crafting a healthier diet and regular exercise:

Go for Color
Perhaps one of the simplest ways to eat healthy is by selecting foods that are colorful in nature, including fresh fruits and veggies. As a general rule of thumb, the more color on the plate, the more nutrients offered to the body. Allow family members to select a new ingredient for all to try, whether it be at a common grocer or a local farmer's market.

Be Pro for Protein
Protein is a vital macronutrient, including supporting healthy childhood development. Select lean protein sources (such as chicken, turkey, sirloin, and fish) to optimize protein content while reducing total calories and fat. And while going vegetarian or vegan is a personal choice and preference, trying plant-based protein sources on #MeatlessMonday is a fun health initiative to try plant-based protein sources, including various beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh.

Limit Sugar
Make a conscious effort to minimize sugar in the house. In fact, sugar intake is a major cause of concern when it comes to child and adult obesity, further leading to risks of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. The American Heart Association encourages children's sugar consumption to be limited to 25 grams (equivalent to six teaspoons) of sugar per day. So instead of purchasing and keeping sugary, packaged treats in the house, offer naturally-sweetened fruits. Sauces, condiments, yogurts, and granola bars are also notorious for hidden sugars, so be sure to check the labels before purchasing.

Cook and Eat Together
Cooking together in the kitchen can spark a greater interest in food and nutrition, subsequently leading to improved meal and snack choices. Eating dinner together as a family not only nurtures physical health, but strengthens bonds and produces memories. Children who eat dinner as a family are also more likely to serve and sit down with their own family as adults.

Use the "Red Light, Green Light" System
To simplify healthy eating for a child, use the "Red Light, Green Light" system that links foods into groups. Low-calorie foods are "green," and the child can eat them freely. Moderate-calorie foods are "yellow," and are best eaten occasionally. High-calorie foods carry the stoplight color of "red," reminding the child to eat them rarely. The system is an easy way for a kid to learn how to identify diet speed traps while substituting healthy foods for unhealthy munchies.

Complete Daily Physical Activity
Make it a commitment to be active for at least 30 minutes per day. But remember, exercise should not feel like a chore, so do family activities you all enjoy doing. For instance, bike down your favorite trails, play catch with the family dog, or compete in a friendly kickball game!

Cut Down On Screen Time
Did you know the average child eats 600 calories a day in front of the television? Considering an excess of 3,500 calories produces one pound, you can control weight just by shutting off the TV! To allot more time getting active over sitting down sedentary, screen time should be limited to two or fewer hours a day, including time spent on cell phones and other electronic devices.

Christy Zagarella's Photo
Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on March 29, 2018.


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