By, Dr. Sharon DiCristofaro, M.D. FAA
The challenge to raise healthy active kids seems to become more difficult as our lives become busier. Electronics have become more than a small part of our children’s lives and going outside to play unsupervised is often more of a safety risk than when we were young. The average child today watches 7.5 hours of television or other screen time daily. While this is easy to understand with our hectic schedules, the consequences to our children have frightening and life-long consequences. The obesity rate for today’s children and teens is now one in three according to the American Heart Association. Even children who are considered normal weight are often not getting enough activity to lead to good healthy habits for life. After years of pediatric practice, these are what I consider the top ten ways to raise healthy and active kids.
- Turn off the television. Kids should not have more than 1-2 hours of total screen time a day. When they see their parents spend all of their downtime watching television or working on the computer, they tend to want to do the same. I realize that we are often finishing work for the day and often have television on for background noise, but we have to limit the times that we do this in front of our children. Kids live what they learn. If work needs to be brought home, play active music and do your work while your kids have a dance party, or play with them outside before you come in to do the work
- Be a good role model. Get activity daily yourself, with your kids if possible.
- Eat more home meals together with the television off. Avoid fast food as much as possible. When time is tight, have quick home cooked meal options. Doing prep work on the weekends makes evening meals fast and healthy. Making kids a part of meal preparation helps them to be involved in healthy choices.
- Make activity a priority and schedule it like anything else that is important. But the activity itself doesn’t have to be planned or involved. Make it fun family playtime. Go for a walk, play catch or tag, or go for a family bike ride. Choose an activity together that sounds fun at the particular time.
- Keep the house stocked with healthy snacks like whole fruits, cut raw vegetables and low-fat dairy.
- Equip your children with appropriate clothing for comfortable play and safety gear for any given activity.
- Remember your childhood. Play red light/green light, monkey in the middle, freeze tag, Frisbee and anything else that makes you smile and let your child teach you games they play.
- Next find out what makes your child smile and help them achieve it. You may love running or playing football, but your child may hate it. Don’t use their childhood to live out your fantasies, but help them find their own passions.
- Eating right starts with a good breakfast and never skipping meals. Avoid soda and sugared beverages. Drink lots of water and have your children do the same.
- Remember that being healthy and active is a goal for every child and not just those who are natural athletes. There’s a difference between active play and training for the Olympics. Enjoy it and your kids will too.