Our kids are bombarded with food every day from super-sized portions, unhealthy kids’ menu options and cupcakes at every turn (now it’s Jimmy’s birthday – cupcakes for everyone!). Couple that with decreasing activity levels among kids and it is no wonder obesity is a big health concern for today’s kids. What can parents do to keep their kids from becoming overweight?
In our “super-size” world, our perception of proper portion gets distorted. Studies show that portion sizes are directly related to caloric intake and have been shown to be the most powerful determinant of calories consumed. The bigger the portion, the more likely kids are to consume more. What are proper portion sizes?
1 serving (3 ounces) of chicken breast = 1 deck of cards
1 serving of rice or pasta (1/2 cup) = ½ baseball
2 TBSP of Peanut butter = 1 ping pong ball
1 teaspoon of margarine = 1 postage stamp
1 cup of dry cereal = baseball
Snack foods tend to be higher in calories, sugar and fat. Remember, you are in control of the kind of food that enters your house! Provide healthy snack choices. Look at the nutritional information to determine the serving size and put that quantity into a bowl instead of letting kids eat from the bag.
Eating Out and Family Meals
It is no surprise that frequent visits to fast food restaurants may be a risk factor for obesity in children. Most restaurant portions are 2-3 times the recommended serving size. Don’t go for the giant “value meal” to save a few cents for double the calories! In contrast, evidence supports a positive association between frequency of family meals and the dietary quality of adolescents (i.e. less fried foods, soft drinks and saturated fats). As the frequency of family meals increases, the prevalence of overweight kids decreases; eat at home!
Weight gain is inversely related to physical activity levels. Kids should accumulate a total of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous exercise. Activity levels among kids have dropped in the last decade or two with more kids spending more time watching TV and playing video games. Several studies have shown television viewing time to be a predictor of BMI (more TV time equals higher BMIs). In a 2003 study, 14.7% of boys and 22% of girls in grades 9-12 were considered inactive. Other reports confirm that girls are generally less active than boys before and during adolescence and are less likely than boys to engage in vigorous physical activity during free time.
How Can I Increase My Child’s Activity Levels?
• Organized sports (community or school sports teams). Some teams are no -cut sports and any one can participate (i.e. track, swimming etc).
• Turn off the TV and encourage active play such as basketball on the driveway, tag with friends, rollerblading, etc.
• Get involved! Go for a bike ride or a walk together. Play games outside with them like badminton or tennis. Not only does this help increase your activity level and theirs, but you’re also spending time together.
• Check for youth fitness classes or programs through city parks & recreation departments or community education (e.g.,the Girls on the Run program that prepares elementary age girls to run a 5k race).
• Check with local gyms on the age requirements for kids to have a membership or attend classes. At Applied Fitness Solutions, we have a class “Fit4Kids”, which is designed to build a baseline of fitness, whether the goal is general health or to increase fitness levels for other reasons.
• Staying active and prioritizing your exercise will help inspire your kids and set a great example for them to follow.
Model Healthy Habits
You teach your kids through your actions. If you eat heaping helpings of food each night and then sit in front of the TV, that’s what your kids will learn. If you eat healthy portions and make sure you get your exercise, your kids will also learn from that.