You may have noticed that today’s kids are chubbier than when you were a child. In fact, according to the United States Surgeon General, in 1999, 13 percent of kids aged three to eleven years and 14 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years in the United States were overweight. That figure has nearly tripled for adolescents in the past two decades. To compound matters further, type 2 diabetes, linked to obesity and once considered an adult affliction, is dramatically on the rise in kids. And while we’d all love to point the finger at kids’ diets as the only culprit for these devastating and potentially dangerous trends (although the consumption of junk food doesn’t help this equation one bit), the real problem stems from the fact that today’s kids are much more sedentary than a generation ago.
Think about it: with the countless cable channels devoted exclusively to children’s programming, it’s no wonder that today’s kids watch an average of 15 to 25 hours of television a week—not exactly an aerobic workout. Add computer and video games to the mix and who’s got time to go outside and play a game of basketball?
According to a recent report by the National Institute of Health, the average third-grade student receives a mere 25 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity during school (experts say children should receive a minimum of 30 minutes per day). Due to budget cuts, many schools continue to trim back physical education programs, too (only 5.9 percent of American school kids have PE daily).
So what can you do to ensure your child won’t turn into a couch potato? Here’s a list of some simple guidelines to get your kid on the right track to a healthy lifestyle.
Focus on Habits
First and foremost, experts say to focus in on positive healthy habits and not on your child’s weight. Children need support and love, not criticism.
Turn off the TV
While it may seem impossible to wean your son off afternoon cartoons, you could impose a 3 to 5 PM moratorium, for instance, and encourage him to play outside instead.
Set a Good Example
Practice what you preach. You can’t ask your child to go outside and get some exercise while you’re indulging in a pint of Rocky Road in front of an I Love Lucy marathon. Studies have shown that if parents are active in sports or some form of exercise, their children will follow their lead and be active, too.
Exercise as a Family
Schedule one fun activity that the whole family can enjoy such as hiking or biking each Saturday or Sunday. Remember, the emphasis should be on fun.
Encourage Lifelong Sports
Cycling, running, and swimming are fun and offer a great workout that can continue well into adult years. Healthy kids often become healthy adults.
Cut Down on Fat and Calories
And when it comes to food, don’t put your child on a strict diet but instead slowly cut down on the amount of fat and calories in your family meals. Stock the refrigerator with healthy snacks such as fruit and yogurt (toss the cookies and soda), and never allow snacking while watching TV!