Preventing childhood obesity starts at home

Help your children to maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle by being a good role model, yourself. (Thinkstock)

Lisa Reed, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an estimated 43 million children around under the age of 5 were overweight or obese, globally, in 2010.

This statistic reflects a 2.5 percent increase from the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity in 1990.

While the numbers are frightening, parents have the power to reverse the trend. Playing an active role in your child’s nutrition and fitness lifestyle can help kids stay healthy and happy throughout their lives.

One of the best ways to help your children stay healthy is to lead by example when it comes to eating right and getting plenty of activity. Below are some tips on how you can help your household maintain a healthy weight.

Make Meals a Family Affair

Get the whole family involved in planning, preparing and cooking dinner. Ask your kids to pick out some healthy options to add to the shopping list. They will be much more willing to try new foods if they have a hand — and a voice — in some of the week’s snacks and meals.

When it comes time to tasting the fruits of your labor, sit at the table and eat together. Giving kids a structured meal and snack schedule will build healthy habits in the future. During the meal, use smaller plates and bowls, and don’t force your kids to clean their plates if they really are full.

Get Moving

Eating healthy is important, but you have to pair it with a physically active lifestyle. Exercise helps adults and children maintain a healthy weight, and it also strengthens your muscles, joints and bones.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity every day.

This doesn’t mean kids have to spend a blocked-off hour in the gym. This activity can be spread out over the course of the day with a variety of activities. Here are some ideas:

  • Ride bikes or walk around the neighborhood together
  • Have a jump rope contest and see who can jump the most times without breaking a streak
  • Practice hopscotch or do jumping jacks
  • Crank up the stereo: Do your favorite dance moves
  • Sign up to run a 5K together
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator when running errands
  • Park your car at the far end of a parking lot so you can walk
  • Give your child simple household responsibilities, such as yard work, taking out the garbage and tidying up the house

All of this physical activity will also help you and your kids sleep better. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that an additional hour of sleep can reduce the risk of a child being overweight or obese by 9 percent.

Balance Your Plate

Making sure to get the right balance of nutrients is as simple as dividing up your plate. Half of the plate should be filled with fruits or vegetables. The rest can be filled with equal parts of nutritious whole grains (try quinoa or whole grain pasta), dairy and a lean protein, such as chicken, tofu, beans or fish.

Start the Day Right

Eating breakfast each day can prevent overeating and reduce the urge to snack throughout the day.

If you have a picky eater in your house, it’s a good idea to keep a variety of nutritious breakfast options on hand.

Here are a few ideas for a simple, yummy and healthy breakfast:

  • A fruit and yogurt parfait made with granola, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit
  • Whole wheat cereal with milk
  • An egg white omelet with vegetables
  • Whole grain waffles or pancakes with berries or bananas
  • Oatmeal with fresh or frozen fruit
  • Whole grain toast with peanut butter and sliced bananas

Avoid Drinking Your Calories

Put the sugary beverages away. Sodas and juices (yes, even those that say 100 percent juice) are packed with sugar and are a dangerous source of empty calories. Unlike calories from food, calories from beverages won’t fill you up or provide you with a substantial amount of nutrients.

To reduce your family’s sugar intake, choose water or milk instead of sugar- sweetened beverages. If you or your kids are craving juice, dilute it with water.

Manage Portion Sizes

Remember that a child’s serving size is smaller than an adult’s serving size. Teach your child how much he or she should be eating by using easy references. For example, a portion size of protein is equal to the size of the back of his or her fist.

A child-sized beverage should fit in a small coffee cup. Help your child realize when they’ve been served a portion that’s too big, and encourage them to only eat what they need. For more examples on helping children to visualize portion sizes, check out some of the suggestions on KidsEatRight.org.

When it comes to snack time, never eat a snack straight out of the bag. Measure out a serving size into a small bowl, and only eat that amount. Follow this rule, yourself, and the children in your house will be sure to do the same.


Most importantly, be a role model for your child. Make goals for yourself and meet them. Work out, play hard and eat well with your kids now, and they’ll be more likely to carry these healthy habits with them later in life.

Lisa Reed’s Back to School Workout

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.


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