Friday, August 10, 2012

Small changes for children's health

Can you really teach your child to become active and healthy?  You can. And it doesn’t have to be a struggle.  The secret is to get your child moving and eating right.

We all know that Americans are becoming heavier. Unfortunately, this growing trend isn’t bypassing our children. Obesity in children has tripled over the past 30 years. Now diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, typically seen in adults, are becoming more and more prevalent in our children. And overweight kids have a tendency to become overweight teens leading to overweight adults. It’s a vicious cycle.

So, what can you do?

As a pediatrician, I recommend to my patients’ parents that they slowly implement any changes. Going cold turkey will virtually ensure that your new healthy plan is unsuccessful. If your child eats fast food three times a week, gradually reduce the number of times you visit a fast-food restaurant. Your goal may be to allow a fast-food meal only once per month as a treat.

You can get your child outdoors and moving in the same way.  I suggest starting with a 10-minute stroll in the morning or at night when the temperature is cooler and over time, increasing your pace and time to 30 minutes or more. This is a simple change that doesn’t really cost anything beyond a pair of comfortable shoes. It is also a great way to carve out time where you and your child can talk.

My biggest issue as a Mom is to try and cut down on my children's sugar intake. Simple sugars are hidden in everything such as cereals, breads, pasta sauces and salad dressings. In general, I pay attention to the grams of sugar and carbohydrates contained in the foods I buy. I try and avoid juice boxes, juice, soda and chocolate milk altogether. Cakes and cookies are saved for special occasions.

I’m surprised by the number of people who are not cooking at home but are instead eating out or picking up fast foods or take-out meals. Generally this is not a healthy way to eat because of the hidden calories and a lack of many healthy choices. In addition, studies show that families who dine together not only eat healthier meals, they also teach children good eating habits. Sit-down meals can be with just Mom, Dad or a sibling, but consistency is important.

Another pitfall is the two-hour period when your teenager may be home alone from school. I commonly encounter cases where teens will consume a lot of calories by loading up on any junk food found in the house. I suggest that you be prepared for ravenous after-school eating by keeping a lot of healthy snacks on hand.

Be aware that school itself can present hazards. Contact your school for the week’s lunch choices and discuss with your child how to make healthy choices in the lunch line. This is also a great opportunity for talking about why some meal options are better than others.

The coming new school year is a terrific time to begin a program of healthy living. Remember to start small and think long term. By teaching your child the ABC’s, you are giving them the foundation for a healthy, well-lived life.

Dr. Angela Mix is a pediatrician on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano. She will be speaking on this topic on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Click here for more information.

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