A Parent's Responsibility
As a parent, your job is to help your child build healthy habits, says Stephanie Walsh, MD, medical director for child wellness at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
- Make sure they're active 60 minutes a day. "Are they out there playing and getting sweaty? They need to breathe hard and be a little stinky so you know they're really moving," Walsh says.
- Fill up half their plates with fruits and vegetables. Give them water, not sugary drinks.
- Be sure they get plenty of sleep. "If you don’t get enough sleep, everything seems worse," Walsh says. "Lack of sleep puts our bodies at significant stress."
- Limit screen time, including computers, phones, TV, and video games.
"If we could follow just those basic habits, we would see a significant improvement in the health of our kids, and we wouldn’t need to measure weight," Walsh says. "Your body kind of finds its [ideal] weight if you engage in healthy habits.”
Let your kids join you in setting their own healthy goals -- like exercising for 10 more minutes today or eating broccoli this week. "You have to get the kid's buy-in, because they have to do it," says Walsh. If you have been following healthy habits for a while and still have any concerns, see your child's doctor.
And practice what you preach, because kids learn from your example. Eat healthy meals together. Don't turn on the TV when you send them out to play. Don't obsess about weight -- yours or your child's.
Kids sometimes become thin and unfit because they're afraid of being overweight, so they diet, says Linda Bacon, PhD, a nutrition professor at City College of San Francisco and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.
"Kids absorb the outside culture. Everybody absorbs the message that fat is bad and thin is good. They get it from their parent, their schools, the media," Bacon says. "We need to have a counter message in there: Your body is OK because it's yours."