For the weekend: Take home tips to curb obesity in children

Consumer Reports News: May 14, 2010 06:08 PM

If you, like many American parents, are concerned about your child's weight, there may be some new strategies worth trying. This week the First Lady and the members of the Childhood Obesity Task Force unveiled their action plan aimed at reducing childhood obesity that lays out 70 specific recommendations, many of which can be implemented right away. They include childcare education for parents, improving access to healthy, affordable foods; getting children to be more physically active; and providing healthy food in schools.

Here are some of the recommendations, with our "take home" translation that that we can all try now.

Recommendation: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines on screen time should be made more available in early childhood settings. Early childhood settings should be encouraged to adopt standards consistent with AAP recommendations not to expose children two years of age and under to television, as well as to limit media exposure for older children by treating it as a special occasion activity rather than a daily event.

Take home: Several studies have correlated the amount of time children spend watching television with rates of obesity. It's up to parents to help by reducing TV—including video games and surfing the Web—to no more than two hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages TV watching for children under the age of 2.

Recommendation: Restaurants should consider their portion sizes, improve children's menus, and make healthy options the default choice whenever possible. The improvements are particularly important since one-third of meals are consumed in restaurants or fast-food establishments.

Take home: The next time you're at a fast-food restaurant, look for the nutrition information before you order. It will likely be posted on a chart on the wall or on the menu. If you can't find it, ask the server or a manager to help. And talk to your kids about what you see there, comparing a grilled chicken sandwich to a double cheeseburger, for instance.

Recommendation: Food companies should be encouraged to offer whole grain-rich bread and cereal products such as sandwich rolls and pastas; reformulate entrees, sauces, and condiments to contain less sodium, while incorporating alternative flavorings and seasonings to maintain palatability; and reduce the high levels of added sugars in many flavored milks and yogurts.

Take home: Cook meals that call for foods to be steamed or baked instead of breaded or fried. Modify recipes to include skim or low-fat milk instead of whole, olive oil instead of butter, or whole-grain pasta or rice rather than white. And bulk up recipes with extra vegetables—throw some kale or peas in that casserole!

Recommendation: State and local educational agencies should be encouraged to promote recess for elementary students and physical activity breaks for older students, and provide support to schools to implement recess in a healthy way that promotes physical activity and social skill development.

Take home: Children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 should get an hour or more of physical activity every day. Encourage your kids to fill that hour with an activity they enjoy—a bike ride, a game of Frisbee, tree climbing, the Wiifit, or a kid-friendly dance or fitness video. If it's something they really enjoy, they won't even realize they're exercising, and they'll be more likely to do it more often, and without you nudging them.

Recommendation: Entertainment and technology companies should continue to develop new approaches for using technology to engage children in physical activity.

Take home: For ideas on how to get your children up and moving, check out these kid-friendly government websites—and introduce them to your child:

  • Best Bones Forever: A bone health campaign for girls and their BFFs to "grow strong together and stay strong forever!"
  • Bam! Body and Mind: designed for kids 9-13 years old, this website gives them the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Move it!: Kids can use this online chart to help record their exercise for the week.
  • MyPyramid Blast Off Game: An interactive computer game where kids can reach Planet Power by fueling their rocket with food and physical activity. "Fuel" tanks for each food group help students keep track of how their choices fit into MyPyramid.
  • The President's Challenge: Kids can win awards for staying active - and track your progress along with kids across America.

Ginger Skinner

Get more ideas on how to help your child maintain a healthy weight.


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