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It’s better to make a plan for staying healthy in any season. And get the whole family involved. It’s especially important to get kids started on healthy habits early. Setting those good habits when children are young puts them on the path toward a healthy life.
But many children are not off to a good start. About 1 in 5 American children are obese, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That puts them at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Fortunately, there are several things parents can do to help build healthy habits for their children that can last a lifetime.
The CDC emphasizes four main areas to focus on to keep kids healthy: eating habits, activity, sleep and screen time.
1. Get the whole family moving more. Kids who are active have stronger muscles and bones, better heart and blood fitness and lower body fat. Children ages 3 to 5 years should be active throughout the day. Children ages 6 to17 years need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
Help them move more by being active as a family. Look for ways to blend having fun, being physically active and being together. If you can get outside, you can work in the yard, play games like basketball or touch football, walk the dog, or take a nature walk. Inside, you can have a family dance party, do chores like vacuuming or move along with exercise videos.
2. Set an example for healthy eating. Making healthy eating a family effort helps children reach and keep a healthy weight as they get older. Be sure to set a good example for your kids. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products. Drink water, 100 percent juice and plain, low-fat milk instead of sugary drinks. Be sure to check labels and follow nutrition guidelines.
3. Aim for strong sleep habits. Sleep is important for everyone. And it’s critical for kids. Good sleep helps prevent Type 2 diabetes, injuries, weight gain, and problems with attention and behavior. Research suggests that children may eat more and be less active if they don’t get enough sleep. Children ages 6 through 12 need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep a night. Teens need 8 to 10 hours. Sticking to a consistent sleep plan, even on weekends, can help children sleep better.
4. Limit screen time. Too much screen time and other sedentary activities can lead to weight gain, poor sleep and poor mental health. Trimming phone, computer and TV screen time can help kids stay healthier. And it frees up time for family activities. Consider removing screens from children’s bedrooms. And turn everything off an hour before bed.
If you’re struggling to keep your kids moving and make sure they’re eating healthy foods, reach out for help. First up: Talk to your child’s doctor. You may also find helpful programs at their school. Or check out local groups like the YMCA or Boys and Girls clubs for programs and classes.
Get more tips for preventing childhood obesity.
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