Stopping Childhood Obesity in Its Tracks

Meals on-the-go, less physical activity in schools and more time spent instant-messaging and playing video games add up to a generation at risk. About 16-percent of all children and teens in the United States are overweight, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease, our nation’s leading cause of death.

But there is good news! Families have the power to help their children make positive changes and can adopt family-wide healthy lifestyles. Last year, the American Heart Association partnered with the William J. Clinton Foundation to address the issue of childhood obesity, creating the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The joint goal of the Alliance initiative is to stop the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States by 2010 and reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity by 10% by 2015.

Some of the strategies for reaching this goal include encouraging families to spend time together engaging in physical activity, advocating for healthier food options in school cafeterias and helping schools and community groups to create after-school physical activity programs that appeal to all kids, not just athletes. Children need to be empowered to be active and place importance on their health.

National Youth Health Awareness Day on October 22. Here are easy steps that parents can take to help encourage their children to adapt healthy lifestyles at a young age:

1. Be a positive role model. If you’re practicing healthy habits, it’s a lot easier to convince children to do the same.

2. Get the whole family active. Plan times for everyone to get moving together. Take walks, ride bikes, go swimming, garden or just play hide-and-seek outside. Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time together.

3. Limit TV, video game and computer time. These habits lead to a sedentary lifestyle and excessive snacking, which increase risks for obesity and cardiovascular disease.

4. Encourage physical activities that children really enjoy. Every child is unique. Let children experiment with different activities until each finds something that he or she really loves doing. They’ll stick with it longer if they love it.

5. Be supportive. Focus on the positive instead of the negative. Everyone likes to be praised for a job well done. Celebrate successes and help children and teens develop a good self-image.

6. Set specific goals and limits, such as one hour of physical activity a day or two desserts per week other than fruit. When goals are too abstract or limits too restrictive, the chance for success decreases.

7. Don’t reward children with food. Using candy and snacks as rewards encourages bad habits. Find other ways to celebrate good behavior.

8. Make dinnertime a family time. When everyone sits down together to eat, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Get the kids involved in cooking and planning meals. Everyone develops good eating habits together and the quality time with the family will be an added bonus.

9. Make a game of reading food labels. The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat. It’s a habit that helps change behavior for a lifetime.

10. Stay involved. Be an advocate for healthier children. Insist on good food choices at school. Make sure your children’s healthcare providers are monitoring cardiovascular indicators like BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol. Contact public officials on matters of the heart. Make your voice heard.

And finally, register for the Greater Washington Region Heart Walk, presented locally by Washington Hospital Center, on Saturday November 4th 2006 on the National Mall. To register  or call 703-527-2659.

For more information on Alliance for a Healthier Generation, visit:


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