Better Choices for a Healthier Child!

Adopt healthful lifestyle choices - It's a means of lowering risk of children turning into overweight adults

It seems as though everyone's talking about overweight people and obesity. Why is it such a big deal? The concern is that more children are overweight than ever before. The number of overweight children has almost doubled in the past 10 years.

We can't point our finger at one reason for the increase in childhood obesity, although there are many trends that may help explain the increase.

Parents are working longer days with less leisure time. This often leads to eating more meals away from home and the portion sizes tend to be larger than we'd serve at home.
We have greater access to high-calorie, high-sugar foods and beverages.
We're spending more time in front of the television or computer screen with less time spent in physical activity.

Regardless of the cause, the health of our children is at stake. It's predicted that this generation will be the first with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Overweight children are twice as likely to become overweight adults, which increases their risk for diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and certain cancers.

It's harder for overweight children to keep up with friends, play outside or play some sports. Other kids often tease the overweight child.

There are things families can do to help their children. If your child is overweight, don't call attention to changes you think the child should make. Make healthy lifestyle changes a priority for the entire family. A few changes can make a big difference and everyone will benefit.

    Eat more meals at home. Forget the fancy sit-down or gourmet meal. With a little planning, families can enjoy a meal at home in about the same time it takes to order a pizza. By planning ahead, you'll have the things on hand that you need to fix a quick, healthy meal.
    When you just have to eat out or order takeout, make wise choices. Check out the nutrition information on restaurant Web sites. Encourage your children to find the healthier options and order those.
    Skip the sugar-sweetened beverages. A 12-ounce soft drink has 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar and about 150 calories. Sweet tea is not far behind. Choose milk, water or 100 percent juice.
    Pack your own snacks. Choose unsweetened dry cereal, pretzels, flavored rice cakes, baked chips or vanilla wafers. Read the food label to find the serving size and pack your single-serving snack in a zip-top bag. Keep fresh fruit and cut up veggies on hand for healthy snacking. Yogurt, string cheese and low-fat pudding are other options. Buy only healthy snacks for the family.
    Limit screen time. That's time in front of the television, computer or games. Children spend an average of 900 hours per year in school and 1,023 hours watching television. Children who watch more television tend to be heavier than children who watch less. The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics for children under 2 years old is no television or video viewing; for children over 2 years old, no more than two hours a day. Set a limit and decide together what you'll watch.
    Be active. You don't need special equipment or clothes to be more active. Take advantage of opportunities to move throughout the day -- take the stairs, walk to a friend's house or walk the dog. Encourage children be active. If you're concerned about their safety when they're playing outside, go with them. Plan active family outings.

Adapted from Health Column/Nancy Smith - Charlotte Observer, July 2007