Healthy, fit kids: The younger, the better

Keep kids activeHere’s something every parent knows: Childhood obesity is a troubling epidemic that puts kids at risk for a lifetime of health concerns. Because of it, life-threatening diseases that were once associated primarily with older patients, like coronary heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, are being diagnosed an ever-increasingly younger population.

But if you are waiting until your kids start school to talk about healthy habits, you’re waiting too long. A recent New England Journal of Medicine study shows that kids who are overweight in kindergarten are four times more likely to be obese in 8th grade. And a University of Michigan report for parents states that overweight kids are at greater risk of becoming obese adults. That’s why it’s more important than ever to instill healthy lifestyle habits in your children from the very beginning.

But it’s not all bad news. The Centers for Disease Control reported a decline in obesity rates among Michigan’s two- to four-year-olds. The rate fell from 13.9% to 13.2%, a “significant decrease” according to the CDC analysis.

Let’s keep that trend going! Here are five ways to teach pre-schoolers healthier habits before they ever board a yellow bus.

  1. Be physical. Kids love to play, so encourage at least one to two hours a day of being active. Take them to a playground, go on a bike ride, start up games like tag or even just head out together for a walk with the family dog.
  2. Limit screen time. Kids under the age of two should rarely be exposed to “screens,” whether it’s television, video games, tablets or computers. All that time zoning out is time they could be doing something active! For kids aged two to five, occasional quality screen time of one to two hours a day is fine.
  3. Model healthy eating habits. Serve fruits or vegetables at every meal and encourage kids to drink water when they are thirsty instead of sugar-filled fruit juices. Eat together as a family so your kids see you eating the same nutritious foods. And get them involved! Let them help with grocery shopping and meal preparation by setting the table, folding napkins or even tossing the salad (supervised, of course).
  4.  Make sure your kids are getting enough sleep. Studies show that kids who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight. Pre-schoolers need up to 12 hours of sleep each night, so be strict with the bedtime.
  5. Avoid using food as a reward. Teach your child that most foods have a place in a healthy diet, but processed foods that are high in fat or sugar and low in nutritional value should be eaten sparingly or as an occasional treat.


Photo credit: Chris Yarzab

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