September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. One in 3 children in the United States are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for health problems that were once seen only in adults, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Childhood obesity continues to be a problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity now affects 1 out of every 6 children and teens in the United States. As children become teenagers, it is often more challenging for them to achieve a healthy weight. The problem of addressing childhood obesity requires a team approach – parents, schools, primary care providers, grocery stores and even the government.

Weight control for children and adolescents focuses on four main areas referred to as “lifestyle habits” and includes:

  • a healthy diet;
  • daily physical activity;
  • limited sedentary activity; and
  • adequate sleep.

When working together, these lifestyle habits are like a symphony – each area playing an important role, but most effective as an orchestrated team.

Eight Small Changes to Improve Kids’ Diets

Try one of these small changes to achieve better lifestyle habits:

  • Small Change #1: Choose a fruit and or vegetable at every meal and every snack.
  • Small Change #2: Remove TVs, computer games, phones, tablets from bedrooms or turn off by 8 p.m.
  • Small Change #3: “Eating out” is defined as a meal that you have not made. Limit these meals to once or twice a week.
  • Small Change #4: Serve water or milk or a milk alternative for meals. Serve water with orange or lemon slices between meals.
  • Small Change #5: Eat real fruit rather than drinking juice.
  • Small Change #6: Take the whole family for a 30 minute walk before or after dinner.
  • Small Change #7: Snacks should consist of 1-3 healthy foods or beverages and should NOT be a meal replacement.
  • Small Change #8: Use the My Plate method of meal planning – ¼ protein, ¼ whole grains, ½ plate of fruits and vegetables

Children and teens often model their parents’ behaviors. Parents should be good role models by practicing what they preach. The same healthy lifestyle habits for children are just as important for parents.

Alison Precourt, RD, CDE, is clinical nutritionist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. 

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