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Healthy Choices

Today, about one-third of Americans are overweight, including nearly 13 million children; almost triple the rate of that from 1971 to 2011. Childhood obesity has become a major health concern; causing problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. Excess weight at young ages has become so drastic that it has been linked to higher and earlier death rates in adulthood. Perhaps one of the most sobering statements regarding the severity of childhood obesity came from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who characterized the threat as follows: “Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

Parents are key to helping overcome this national epidemic. As a parent, you can encourage your kids to make healthy food choices and physical activity habits. The American Heart Association recommends that children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity daily. Examples of moderate activity include bike riding, swimming and brisk walking. Vigorous activities include jogging, soccer, aerobics or dancing. The healthiest way to change weight is gradually, so start small and build up. When talking to your kids make sure to keep things fun and positive. Kids don’t like to hear what they can’t do, so tell them what they can do instead; setting realistic goals and limits.

Remember to never make exercise a punishment and encourage physical activities that they’ll enjoy. Every child is unique so let them experiment until they find something that they really love doing so they’ll stick with it. Forcing your child to go out and play, or to play a sport he or she doesn’t like, may increase resentment and resistance. Try dancing, running, martial arts, cycling, skateboarding, yoga, soccer, ice skating, jumping rope or tennis. The possibilities are endless and the corridor is full of classes and activities for kids. Be patient as they try new things, and remember, activity means any activity that gets your heart rate up! A great way to keep your kids moving is by getting the whole family involved. If you plan times for the whole family to spend together being active your kids will see you being a good role model and will show them your support. Take walks, hikes and bike rides together. If your child has gone out for a sport make sure to find time to practice together and boost their confidence.

Staying healthy also means developing good eating habits. The estimated calories needed by children range from 900/day for a one-year-old to 1,800 for a 14–18-year-old girl and 2,200 for a 14–18-year-old boy. Start by sitting down together to make a healthy meal and snack plan, and get your kids involved in the cooking process. Your kids will be more likely to eat what they’ve helped create. It’s recommended that families eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. Total fat intake should be between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children two to three years of age, and between 25 to 35 percent for children and adolescents four to 18, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils. When using oils for cooking, baking or in dressings or spreads, choose healthier oils — which include canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean and sunflower oils.

To limit added sugars, reduce or cut out soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks as well as enhanced waters, sweetened teas and sugary coffee drinks. Provide a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Each meal should contain at least one fruit or vegetable. Children’s recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup/day, between ages one and three, to 2 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy. Recommended vegetable intake ranges from ¾ cup a day at age one to 3 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy.

Following these guidelines will help make a life-long difference in your children’s lives; and yours.

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