About one in five school-aged children deals with obesity. The Centers for Disease Control says that percentage has nearly tripled since the 1970s, making it a dangerous and growing nationwide epidemic.
But there’s a better way to live. And it starts at home. Parents are role models and guides for behavior early on. It’s easier to get a jump start on a healthy lifestyle than to break bad habits later.
Here are five simple ways to promote a healthier lifestyle for your family:
1. Cook and eat together
While it sounds like a no-brainer, eating together as a family – and going a step further by getting everyone involved in cooking – can have profound, long-lasting effects on children. Research shows children and adolescents who share three meals or more with their families per week are more likely to be in normal weight range, have healthier dietary and eating patterns and are less likely to engage in disordered eating. Additionally, sitting down for meals together is an opportunity to talk about healthy habits.
2. Make physical activity part of the daily routine
The World Health Organization suggests building in time for physical activity as a way to promote a healthy lifestyle to kids. This can be a nightly walk or bike ride through the neighborhood, a pick-up soccer game in the backyard or dancing around the house. It’s important for children to see you being active and exercising regularly. Soon, it just becomes part of their routine.
3. Keep physical activity fun
Exercising daily might not stick. But sites like WebMD say children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. So you’ve got to make it fun. Some kids are good athletes and will naturally take to sports. But others will need a plan. You can start with building in weekend activities weekends like going to the zoo, a park or swimming pool.
4. Limit screen time
Instead of relying on televisions and computers as de facto babysitters, encourage your kids to pursue active alternatives and games. Involve them in chores, like tidying up or raking the leaves. It reinforces that staying active is important. When watching TV as a family, consider stretch breaks during the commercials or changing it up to an interactive video game. Also, research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests children who never or rarely watched TV during mealtime were less likely to consume unhealthy snacks like soda and chips.
5. Stick to a bedtime routine
Starting a routine when kids are young is likely to transfer into adulthood. Lack of sleep when they’re older can increase risk of heart attack and stroke. In an interview with Health.com, Dr. Mehmet Oz suggests keeping bedrooms cool and dark, and nixing the technology. He also says bedtime is also a great opportunity to bond with children, as they’re more likely to open up when tired.