According to data from the Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Appalachian Communities (CARDIAC) Project, nearly half of West Virginia fifth graders are overweight or obese. Obesity puts children at a much higher risk for type II diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, all of which used to be considered strictly adult diseases. September has been designated as Childhood Obesity Prevention Month to educate the community on the dangers of childhood obesity and to provide various strategies on how to prevent the disease. Studies have shown that people who adopt a healthy lifestyle as children grow up to be healthier adults. Teaching children about nutrition and physical activity is therefore crucial in creating healthy futures.
Children learn and mirror behaviors of influential adults in their lives. Therefore, family lifestyle plays a key role in the health habits of children, which can be a useful tool in the fight against childhood obesity. Below are some basic health behaviors that should be a part of a family’s daily routine.
Incorporate Physical Activity Daily
Research has shown that children need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day. Taking a brisk family walk, jumping rope, playing a physically exerting game such as tag, or playing a sport such as soccer can help fulfill the daily activity requirements. Parents should try incorporating some structured physical activity into their child’s daily routine as well as encouraging them to go outside and play on their own.
Limit Screen Time
Allowing only two hours of recreational screen time a day is another way parents can encourage their children to get up and move. Screen time includes watching TV, playing video games, and using the computer for non-homework related activities. In addition, research has shown that screentime is also associated with overeating amongst both children and adults.
Make Healthier Food Choices
Humans were designed to live off of the land, and as technology has expanded so has America’s waistlines. It is important for Americans to get back to eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat instead of consuming highly processed foods. Role modelling healthy eating behaviors for children is important. A few simple steps to a healthier family are keeping sugary beverages such as soda out of the home, making fruits and vegetables readily available, buying low fat or fat-free dairy products such as milk and yogurt, eating lean meats, buying whole grain and high fiber bread products, and cooking with plant fats such as olive oil and flaxseed oil instead of animal fats such as butter and shortening.
It is recommended that children consume five servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. To help reach this daily goal, put blueberries or a banana on a serving of whole grain cereal for breakfast, provide an apple or a bag of grapes for lunch, prepare celery sticks filled with low-fat peanut butter for a snack, include a vegetable stir fry as a side dish for dinner, and give your child a slice of watermelon or pineapple for a sweet yet healthy dessert.