And maybe most importantly, how can I help them to live healthy, happy lives?
Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. At least half are expected to grow-up to be overweight or obese adults.
Nearly none, according to the American Heart Association, meet the healthy-diet and physical activity recommendations, increasing their risk for everything from asthma to cardiovascular disease to diabetes to stroke, and making them more at risk for depression and low self-esteem.
We can help our children make heart-healthy choices now, leaving them feeling empowered to make small changes in their lifestyle that will lead to bigger, heart-healthy decisions down the road.
Start that journey this American Heart Month and see how far you can get in a year. You will be amazed by the results. Children who eat healthy and are active have higher academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems.
Here are 10 tips to help your children develop healthy habits:
- Be a good role model. You don’t have to be perfect all the time, but if your kids see you trying to eat right and getting physically active, they’ll notice your efforts. When you drink water instead of a soda, or pick the low-sodium soup at the grocery store, it sends a message that good health is important.
- Keep things positive. If your children are like mine, they don’t like to hear what they can’t do. Tell them what they can do Keep it fun and positive. Physical activity might be hard at first but empower them to do a little bit more every day and congratulate them when they do. Everyone likes to be praised for a job well done. Celebrating successes helps children and teens develop a good self-image.
- Get the whole family moving. Plan times for everyone to get moving together. Take walks, ride bikes, go swimming, garden or just play hide-and-seek outside. Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time together. Even if you’re sitting around playing board games, that’s better than watching TV and eating junk food.
- Be realistic. Setting realistic goals and limits are key to adopting any new behavior. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference in your health over time, so start small and build up. No one can go from zero to 100 overnight.
- Limit TV, video game and computer time. My kids love electronics but these habits can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and often excessive snacking, which puts them at risk for an unhealthy heart. Limit screen time to two hours or less per day.
- Encourage physical activities that they’ll really enjoy. Every child is unique. Let your child experiment with different activities until they find something that they really love doing. They’ll stick with it longer if they love it. Check out some of these activities: indoor trampoline parks, ice skating, or just playing tag in the backyard.
- Pick truly rewarding rewards. Don’t reward children with screen time or unhealthy snacks for a job well done. Find other ways to celebrate good behavior and achievements like special family time or playing at the neighborhood park.
- Make dinnertime a family time. With two working parents and a schedule full of activities and events, it is hard to find a time to get our together…but we try to make dinner that time. When everyone sits down together to eat, there’s less chance of my kids making a meal out of snacks. I also get my kids involved in cooking and planning meals. Over the holiday break, each child was tasked with developing a menu for a family meal. It was great fun! Some of our favorites are homemade ravioli and shrimp ceviche.
- Make a game of reading food labels. Not many adults know what nutrition labels actually mean so how can we expect our children to know? By reading labels together, the whole family will learn to be more conscious what’s actually in our food and understand the health impacts of what we eat. This is a life skill that can help shape behavior for a lifetime.
- Stay involved. Be an advocate for healthier children. Insist on healthy food options at your child’s school. Make sure your children’s healthcare providers are monitoring cardiovascular indicators like BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol. Contact public officials on matters of the heart. Join us in making your voice heard through YoureTheCure.org.
No one expects us to be perfect, but our choices – good or bad – can have a lasting impact on our children’s future. When they’re making healthy choices at age 5, we can prevent some of the health problems they may face at age 20 or 30. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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Athena Ramos is a native Nebraskan. She is currently the Community Health Program Manager for the Center for Reducing Health Disparities and an Instructor in the Department of Health Promotions, Social & Behavioral Health at the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). She is a past winner of the American Heart Association’s “Advocate of the Year” for Nebraska.