With U.S. childhood obesity rates more than doubling during the past three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control, chubby cheeks on little ones are looking a lot less cute these days.
The advantage of confronting obesity at an early age is that it’s still possible for your child to get things under control. For example, a 40-year-old trying to curb his or her fast-food intake has 40 years of bad habits to reverse, whereas a kindergartner has only five.
Here are eight expert tips for helping your kids maintain a healthy weight throughout their childhood.
- Empower your kids. Teach them about healthy food choices, but emphasize the choice aspect of the process. Encourage them to pick out their own snacks, learn to change their behavior and make smart decisions.
- Consider breastfeeding. Children who are breast fed are less likely to be obese because they learn to stop eating when they’re full, rather than being guided by the number of ounces left in a bottle. Talk to your doctor about whether that’s an option for your infant.
- Give up your membership in the clean plate club. For many kids, the issue isn’t just what they eat but the amount. Encourage good portion control behavior by allowing kids to stop eating when they are full, rather than making them eat everything on the plate.
- Model good behavior. Kids will want to eat junk if they see Mom and Dad eat junk. Kids will want to eat healthier if they see Mom and Dad eat healthier.
- Rethink rewards. Instead of serving up heaps of praise with ice cream and cake, offer a trip to the roller rink or the wave pool or another fun, active outing as a reward. Not only does it curb the sweets, but it gets everyone doing something together. Many adults think of exercise as a chore, but kids still think of it as play. Take advantage of that.
- Reduce screen time. The average U.S. child is in front of some type of screen as much as seven hours a day. That compares with as little as 12 to 15 minutes (yes, minutes) of daily physical activity.
- Make small changes. For example, choose whole-wheat crust instead of white crust on your family’s pizza. Those kinds of small changes can add up over time. Fruit juices are another easy switch.
- Look in the mirror. Obese children often are diagnosed with diabetes or other related diseases before their older family members are. If your child has been diagnosed with an obesity-related disease, consider changing your own behavior too so that the whole family gets healthier together.