10 tips for healthy kids

Zoomers are living longer and healthier lives than ever before — but, unfortunately, the same can’t be said for their children and grandchildren. Recent research shows that poor eating habits and lack of exercise may have dangerous long-term consequences for many youngsters.

Here’s what we know so far: nearly one-third of children age 5 to 17 are obese, says a report from Statistics Canada. Experts say today’s kids are less active and they consume more sugar, junk food and processed food than previous generations.

Not only are children not getting enough nutrients and exercise for optimal growth and development, they’re now facing some of the same risks as adults. Some experts warn they’re facing increased risks of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, blocked arteries, heart disease and type-2 diabetes. In fact, some teens’ health rivals that of boomer men!

So what’s the remedy? Experts warn that it’s time for adults and children to shape up. After all, the patterns and habits children develop now will stay with them throughout their lives.

10 tips for healthier kids

Whether they’re visiting for the day or with you 24/7, here’s what you can do to promote a healthy lifestyle for the children in your life:

Educate yourself. Kids rely on their care providers to give them healthy foods and opportunity for exercise and being away of the requirements and choices can make the difference. For instance, experts recommend that kids get at least 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week, including activities to strengthen muscles and bones. And how about those fruits and veggies? Kids need at least four to six servings, depending on their age. At least half of their servings of grains and cereals should come from whole grains too.

Other healthy know-hows can make a big difference too — like understanding serving sizes and using healthy cooking methods.

(For more information about healthy eating and activity, start with Canada’s Food Guide and Health Canada’s Physical Activity Guides.)

Plan outings. Unlike previous generations, today’s kids spend a lot of time in front of the TV or computer. Help children be more active by planning activities that get them moving, especially during those chilly winter months. Look to your community for interesting events and resources. For instance, many parks and trails rent snowshoes and skis for some winter fun.

It doesn’t have to require a lot of planning or cash — a trip to the park or building a snow fort in the yard will do.

Make a fitness date. Research has shown that exercising with others is motivating and enjoyable, plus it provides the opportunity to meet new friends as well. Many activities are suitable for adults and children, and a class allows you to designate time every week for exercise.

In addition to classes, watch for drop-in or pay-as-you-go programs in your area, like swimming and skating programs, or train to participate in runs or walks for your favourite charity.

It doesn’t have to be a special outing — even taking the dog for a walk at a set time each day can sneak some regular activity into the routine.

Provide the means. Make activity accessible by keeping the right equipment at hand — like jump ropes, soccer balls, a baseball and glove or sidewalk chalk for hopscotch. (Hint: they make great gifts too.)

Same goes for food: Keep healthy snack and meal options on hand from a variety of food groups can help thwart temptation. Avoid keeping junk food around the house, and avoid buying those large packages.

Skip the sugary drinks. Pop, sugary drinks and even fruit juices (in large quantities) contribute to childhood obesity thanks to their high calorie count. Offer water first, and limit fruit juices too. (See Drinks that pack on the pounds for more information.)

Use right-sized dishes. Empty space on plates or bowls makes our minds think we’re getting a smaller serving than we actually are. Keep portions in perspective by using smaller plates, bowls and cups suited to the foods and audience you’re serving.

And it’s okay to indulge in the occasional dessert or sugary drink, but you can cut out half the fat, calories and refined sugars by splitting a portion with your youngster.

Up the fruit content. You don’t have to banish desserts or sweet snacks, but experts recommend making healthy food the focal point. Instead of using fruit as a topping, add a dollop of low-fat topping or a small scoop of frozen yoghurt to a bowl of fruit. Cook up a healthy dessert — such as baked apples or grilled fruit kabobs — that doesn’t add a lot of sugar or fat.

Let them help. Children are often more interested in foods they’ve helped to prepare. Experts note that there are many things adults can do to get children involved, whether it’s growing a garden, helping to wash and prepare vegetables, or cooking and baking healthy foods together.

Make sustainable changes. Trying to do too much at once could set you and your children up for failure. Instead, experts warn to make gradual changes. For example, try reducing internet and TV time by 30 minutes per day and increase daily activity by 30 minutes. Introduce more healthy foods, and use a little less added sugar each week rather than cutting out sweets altogether.

The goal is to turn these lifestyle changes into life-long habits rather than temporary fixes. Taking on too much, too quickly can be overwhelming. (Consider how many New Year’s resolutions fail.)

Of course, one of the most important things you can do is be a role model. Healthy living is something everyone should strive for, and children often emulate the practices they see. Experts recommend that adults — whether it’s parents, grandparents or other care providers — can help by modeling a healthy lifestyle (even if they think children aren’t watching). It’s the small things that matter, like sitting down at the table to eat together, exercising together and going places where other people are active (like parks and recreation facilities).

Sources: Health Canada, CBC News, CTV News, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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