Obesity in children is a major health concern in the United States: Almost 18 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are obese, a significant increase from the 7 percent of kids that age who were obese in 1980. However, an improved diet can go a long way toward overcoming the problem, a CHOC pediatric gastroenterologist says.
One of the best ways for parents to help children prevent obesity is to improve their diet, says Dr. Cecilia Vaquero Solans. She suggests that parents and families follow a simple “five-to-one” plan when it comes to food, beverage, exercise and lifestyle choices for their kids:
- Serve five fruits or vegetables per day.
- Drink four glasses of water per day.
- Have three meals per day. (Breakfast is the most important.)
- Spend two hours or less watching television and playing on electronics, combined.
- Have one hour of exercise of a day.
- Sweet beverages like soda and juice? Zero.
Sugary desserts and candy should be rare, Dr. Vaquero Solans says.
“Dessert should be mostly fruit, nuts, yogurt and high-fiber snacks,” she says.
Children also don’t need juice, Dr. Vaquero Solans says, noting its high sugar content. Instead, children should drink milk or water.
Here are some more healthy eating tips for parents from Dr. Vaquero Solans:
- Model good eating habits for children. To keep your kids from eating unhealthy foods, don’t buy them or keep them at home.
- Eat meals at home whenever possible, but when eating out, make the salad a central part of the meal. These days, even fast food restaurants have at least one or two salads as a healthier alternative.
- When going out for entertainment, go after the meal and don’t make the fast food meal the center of the day.
- Snacks in between meals are good for kids, as long as they are healthy. Try a piece of fruit, yogurt or a cereal bar, which can help prevent overeating at mealtime.
- If mom or dad are busy at work and have little time to cook, prepare some meals over the weekend and freeze them. This helps to avoid buying take-out.