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Poe Center: Nine steps to prevent childhood obesity

Posted September 23, 2015

Editor's Note: Starting today, experts from the Poe Center for Health Education will be offering information here on Go Ask Mom occasionally. Today, Marjorie Lanier, a healthy communities facilitator at Poe, shares important information about childhood obesity, which originally appeared on the center's blog.

One in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for health problems that were once seen only in adults, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The good news is that childhood obesity can be prevented. Parents and schools can work hand in hand to develop solutions. Community organizations, such as the Poe Center, can be resources for healthy change. Now that kids are back in school, let’s also consider small steps we can take as parents, school administrators and teachers to help children stay at a healthy weight.

  • Participate in National Walk or Bike to School Day.
  • Rethink classroom rewards: Telling kids to eat healthy, but rewarding them with candy, pizza parties and ice cream celebrations sends a confusing message. Instead, consider non-food rewards or special privileges, such as getting to choose “free time” activities for the group, sitting on the “special” beanbag chair or going first during activities.
  • Don’t use physical activity as a form of discipline: When we use or withhold physical activity as a form of punishment (“You weren’t listening. Give me five laps around the field” or “You were late for dinner, so you can’t play basketball tonight”), we are promoting negative attitudes toward exercising that can carry over into adulthood. It is also recommended that kids get at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate levels of physical activity daily to promote good health. Taking away active time as a punishment reduces key time during the day when children can get their bodies moving.
  • Serve more vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain foods whenever possible: Orange and apple wedges, carrots with hummus dip, or popcorn popped without butter (look for options cooked in oils, such as sunflower or olive oil) are good snacks or lunch accompaniments.
  • Always choose water over sugary drinks: Even beverages that appear healthy, such as juice drinks, vitamin water, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc., can contain lots of sugar, which means extra calories that kids don’t need.
  • Move more with your kids: Provide short classroom-based ENERGIZERS or go for a family walk or shoot hoops after dinner. This short video has more ideas.
  • Limit screen time: Keep screen time (time spent on the computer/iPad, watching TV, or playing video games) to two hours or less a day.
  • Refuel a child’s body the healthy way: After a game or sports practice use the Sports Snack Game Plan.
  • Be the change: “Monkey see, monkey do,” as the saying goes. If you eat smart and move more, kids will likely want to follow your lead and do the same.

Let’s lighten the load on our kids by instilling healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

Marjorie Lanier, MPH, is a health communities facilitator for the Poe Center for Health Education. She's based in southeastern North Carolina.

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