Obesity is a health problem that affects 15% of children and teens in the U.S. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), obesity is a national health emergency. However, Victoria Garcia, manager of Community Benefit at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says there are small, simple steps families can take to reduce the risk of obesity.
“Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S., but making healthy lifestyle choices is about more than just obesity prevention,” said Garcia. “When children are healthy, they are also happy. We want families to take small steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Being active and eating well is a positive message that can apply to anyone and everyone.”
Garcia advises parents to set children up for success by incorporating a simple formula into everyday life: 7-5-2-1-0. Below, Garcia decodes what each number means.
7 – Start the day with breakfast, everyday, seven days a week. Even if it’s a quick meal on-the-go, a healthy breakfast starts a child’s day off right by helping them to stay energized and focused, which is especially important as the school year begins again.
“A quick breakfast is better than no breakfast at all,” said Garcia. “A whole-wheat muffin with peanut butter, low-fat yogurt with fruit, or whole grain cereal with fruit and low-fat milk are all great options. Make grabbing breakfast in the morning easy for children and teens by having options ready and available. Try to offer breakfasts that have multiple food groups (dairy, bread, fruit) to offer many nutrients.”
5 – Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Offer fruits and vegetables at every meal and as snacks in between meals. Pre-packaged fruits and vegetables, like carrots and celery in bags make eating well convenient. Also, children are more likely to eat the fruits and vegetables they choose, so let kids help when picking fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market, said Garcia.
“Have fun with food,” she added. “Pairing vegetables with peanut butter or cheese can add a delicious twist to a simple snack. My family loves to try new fruits and vegetables. We pick something new and try out a recipe together. It’s a fun way to get the kids interested in food and teach them how to cook.”
2 – Limit screen time. The AAP recommends that children and teens engage in no more than two hours of screen time per day. According to the AAP, television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2.
“Instead of video games or TV, plan family activities like game or art nights,” said Garcia. “There are easy ways to help monitor and limit screen time. Set rules about TV or computer use, use a timer to limit screen time and keep screens out of a child’s bedroom. Within screen time, try and make those activities interactive and involve the family. At our house, we like to play Wii together.”
1 – Get active. Children and teens should incorporate one hour of activity in their day. Every bit counts, said Garcia. Go on a bike ride as a family or play outside. Parents should encourage kids to be active, every day.
“Choose activities that fit well with your family. Take turns choosing different activities. Think about each activity as an opportunity for children to have fun while being active,” said Garcia.
0 – Aim for. For children of all ages, water is the best choice when reaching for a beverage. As kids and teens head back to school, remember to pack a water bottle so they have access to water all day. Choose low-fat milk over soda and other drinks with lots of sugar.
“If water gets boring, mix it up,” Garcia said. “Try adding strawberries or cucumber in your child’s water. It is still water, but the flavor gives it an extra splash of fun. It’s like a little treat.”
Most importantly, though, Garcia reminds parents to model healthy behaviors for children and teens.
“By making healthy choices and staying active, parents can help children establish healthy habits that can last a lifetime.”