The Winning CombinationMaking the switch to healthy eating is vital, but physical activity is just as important. Obesity treatment that combines diet changes with increased activity is more successful in fighting obesity than treatment that focuses on diet alone.
Screen TimeLike most kids these days, your child probably devotes a large part of his or her free time to television, videos, computers, or video games. If it weren’t for the popularity of these sedentary (sitting) activities, kids would undoubtedly be much more physically active. Too much “screen time” is a major reason so many kids today are obese. READ MORE
One of the best things you can do to help your child fight obesity is to limit his or her TV, video, and computer time to no more than 2 hours a day. Watching TV is the ultimate sedentary activity—even just sitting and resting burns up more calories than watching television! Kids also tend to munch high-calorie snacks when watching TV. And television viewing exposes kids to advertising, much of it aimed at children, that pushes unhealthy snack food, fast food, and soda. Restricting the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen frees him or her up to be active—to go outside, socialize, help out with chores, play games. LESS
The Vanishing Gym ClassAnother reason kids are less active is that many schools are cutting back on gym classes: physical education is one of the first programs to get cut when there’s a budget crunch. Only about 8% of US elementary schools and 6% of middle and high schools offer daily PE classes for all grades for the entire year. The average amount of PE offered is half an hour, twice a week. And only about half of all high school students are enrolled in PE class.
Just Get Moving!Being physically active doesn’t necessarily mean exercising. In fact, it’s better if being active is part of your child’s lifestyle and involves doing something that he or she enjoys and chooses to do. Talk with your child about what appeals to him or her. Suggest possible sports or classes, like soccer, basketball, skating, swimming, or dance. READ MORE
Be sensitive to your child’s feelings, too. He or she might feel more comfortable playing outside with friends, jumping on a trampoline, or just going on long walks. Have your kid walk to school if the distance isn’t too great, and make it a rule that he or she play outside after school unless the weather is bad. Your child doesn’t need to do aerobic exercise of the sort an adult might do, like using a stationary bike or running on a treadmill. (In any case, before adolescence a kid’s body isn’t ready for adult-style exercise.) Focusing more on decreasing inactivity than on vigorous exercise is the best way to encourage long-term weight loss.
The main thing is just to get them moving! LESS
A Family AffairOne great way to decrease inactivity is to build movement into your family’s daily activities. Have your child help with chores like walking the dog, making the beds, carrying the laundry, vacuuming, or washing the car. Park farther away from your destination than usual. Take the stairs, not the elevator. READ MORE
Getting the whole family involved is the best way to ensure success. Design family recreation around activity: walk through the zoo or hike in the woods. Go for a bike ride or a swim together. Build snowmen together in the winter and fly kites in the spring. Your whole family will get healthier, and your child will feel much more supported in becoming active. LESS
How Much Is Enough?Children need about an hour of physical activity every day, but your child doesn’t have to start out doing that much, or even doing it all at one time. Doing a number of 5- or 10-minute “activity bursts” throughout the day works well, too. If your child isn’t used to being active, start off slowly so he or she doesn’t get discouraged. A reasonable starting goal is 20-30 minutes of activity per day with the aim of working up to a full 60 minutes.
Rewards for Good BehaviorIt may be useful for you and your child to set a weekly activity goal (for instance, 45 minutes a day for 6 days) and to decide together on a reward for having reached that goal. Remember not to use food as a prize! Ideally, the reward should be something that encourages more physical activity, like sports equipment or a trip somewhere that requires walking. READ MORE
Remember, too, to praise your child for his or her efforts. Changing ingrained habits can seem like hard work at first. It’s important to acknowledge any efforts your child does make, even if he or she doesn’t meet the activity goal for the week or isn’t as active as you’d like. Encouragement and approval get much better results than criticism. LESS
Who’s at Risk?Some kids are more at risk for low levels of activity than others. Younger children tend to be physically active, but as kids enter into adolescence their activity level drops. Children with disabilities, who live in poverty, and who live in apartment buildings or housing projects tend to be less physically active. So do kids who live in places where outdoor activity is restricted by climate, safety concerns, or lack of recreational facilities. READ MORE
Girls tend to be less active than boys, and this tendency increases as they get older. Ethnic minority children tend to be less physically active than white children. A nationwide survey found that 26% of American children overall, 33% of Mexican-American children, and 43% of African-American children watch at least 4 hours of television per day. These kids also had more body fat than kids who watched less than 2 hours of TV a day. LESS