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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Tips for Parents

Posted: 10/12/11 05:30 PM ET

Nearly 1 in 3 American children is either overweight or obese.

At the current rate, experts predict that without intervention this generation of children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents. It is a serious situation. In the short term, overweight children are more at risk for bone and joint problems and often suffer from social and psychological issues like low self-esteem and stigmatization. Long term, overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults and more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes -- all risk factors for heart disease.
We could debate why childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years but that won't do much to reverse the trend. Here are some ways to ward off childhood obesity starting with your own home today.

Be a great role model. For better or worse, parents are the most influential role models in a kid's life. Fill your plate with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and smaller portions of meat to show children that healthy eating is easy, delicious and importantly -- the norm.

Allow children to be part of the produce picking process. Kids are more likely to eat the vegetables they select at the supermarket and even from the refrigerator. It's also fun for them to think that they decided what Mommy and Daddy will eat. Visit www.kidseatright.org for more healthy eating tips and recipes.

Visit a farm. Helping kids see where food comes from gets them excited to try it. (It also works for adults.) Go apple picking at an orchard for a fun and active fall trip. Bring home your harvest to make fresh applesauce or bake a healthy apple crisp with chopped almonds and oats as a topper instead of a calorie-laden crust or streusel.

Move more as a family.
If walking or biking to school is an option, take advantage of that time to bond with school-age children and fit some additional physical activity in for the day.

Cut the TV time. Research suggests that children who watch less TV tend to eat healthier. And though food marketing and advertising to children has been reduced, kids are still exposed to commercials and product placements for junk food during their favorite TV shows. Try a before or after dinner walk a few times a week instead of watching a string of cartoons or sitcoms.

Get involved. It takes a village to raise a healthy child. Participate in (or start) a healthy eating initiative at your child's school, community garden or church.

If you've struggled to achieve a healthy weight yourself, you know it can be difficult. Fortunately, children have a major edge that adults don't. They are still growing. That means it's easier for them to lose the weight without going on a "diet."

In fact, dieting is not recommended. Instead, make simple food, physical activity and lifestyle changes like the ones mentioned here to help your child achieve a healthy weight. If you're not sure if you need to take action, check your child's weight status using the CDC's Child and Teen Body Mass Index Calculator.

But before you go, I want to know... what are you doing to keep your family fit and healthy? Share your successes and challenges in the comments section.

Marisa Moore, MBA.RD.LD. is a registered dietitian in private practice in Atlanta, GA. She is adjunct faculty at Georgia State University, a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the owner of Marisa Moore Nutrition.

 

Follow Marisa Moore on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marisamoore