Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Active children lead to healthier adults

America is getting fatter — all the data tells us so.

Odds are, adults who are obese were probably heavy during their childhood.

Awareness about childhood obesity is increasing, as I am asked about it on a regular basis by parents.
Many parents are aware that their children are overweight. Unfortunately their main approach to control this rests only on diet.  Exercise is often overlooked, and unfortunately the only activities some children get is playing with their XBoxes, Wii or PlayStations.

With physical activity declining dramatically as a child's age and school grade increases, it is important that exercise be a regular part of family life. Studies have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. If sports and physical activities are  family priorities, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children become more active. Here are some ways to get started:

  Have fun. Help your children find sports they enjoy The more they like the activity, the more likely they will continue. Get the entire family involved. It is a great way to spend time together.
  Choose an activity that is developmentally appropriate. For example soccer, bicycle riding, and swimming are all appropriate activities for an elementary school child.
  Safety cannot be overstressed. Make sure your child's equipment and chosen site for the sport or activity are safe. Make sure your child's clothing is comfortable and appropriate.
  Avoid sugary drinks. Unfortunately, Gatorades and Powerades have become the drink of choice in many little leagues and other youth sports. Just water is plenty.
  If you have no time for organized sports, make time for exercise. Some children are so overscheduled with homework, music lessons, and other planned activities that they do not have time for exercise.
  Be a model for your child. Children who regularly see their parents enjoying sports and physical activity are more likely to do so themselves. Play with your child. Help them learn  new sports.
  Turn off the TV. Limit television watching and computer use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time, including TV, videos, and computers and video games, each day. Use the time saved for more physical activities.

Exercise along with a balanced diet provides the foundation for a healthy, active life. One of the most important things parents can do is encourage healthy habits in their children early in life. It is never too late to start. Your pediatrician can help your child understand why physical activity is important. 

Ravi Prakash is a pediatrician on The William W. Backus Hospital Medical Staff. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.backushospital.org/backus-blogs or e-mail Dr. Prakash or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org

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