These days, we hear a lot about childhood obesity. Which isn't surprising, given that a third of US kids are overweight or obese. The implications for their future health--and our health as a country--are staggering; this is the first generation that may die before their parents do.
We also hear a lot about what we should do about it. Sometimes the advice can be overwhelming, or seem impossible. When I tell some parents that their kids should be eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, they look at me like I have five heads--there's no way their fruit-and-vegetable-hating kids are going to do that. I get the same looks sometimes when I talk about sports teams or whole grains.
Lives are complicated, I get that. And kids don't always do what we want them to do. If we are going to make real changes, they need to be changes we know will work. We need them to be "evidence-based", which is our fancy medical way of saying proven by good medical studies.
So here are four habits that medical studies have proven to work when it comes to preventing and treating childhood obesity. And what's even better, they are all straightforward and relatively simple.
1. Make sure your child gets ten hours of sleep a night. When kids get less, it causes stress on the body and can slow the metabolism, making weight gain more likely. So get your child into good sleep habits. To help them get the full ten hours, start the calming bedtime ritual a good hour before that, and get the TV out of the bedroom. And speaking of TV's...
2. Limit screen time to less than two hours a day. I know this can be hard (getting the TV out of the bedroom helps), but studies really do show that kids who spend than two hours in front of a screen (TV, computer, video games) each day are more likely to be overweight.
3. Get your child active for at least one hour every day. A sports practice is an easy way to package it, but active play is great too--stop at the park after school, pick child care that involves activity, make activity part of your weekend plans. Go for walks as a family--you'll be setting a good example and having some nice together time.
4. Don't give your children any sugar-sweetened beverages. None. Zero. Zilch. Well, I suppose once in a blue moon, like at a special restaurant outing, is okay. But don't have any soda or sugared juices in the house. They are calories your kid just doesn't need (actually, nobody in your house needs them).
I'm not saying that fruits and vegetables and whole grains aren't important, because they are. Check out the low glycemic index diet, as a recent study showed it was best for weight control. And it would be really great if more kids could play sports. But we have to start somewhere, and we should start with the proven basics.