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Keeping kids healthy

With childhood obesity on the rise, learn how to help your kids maintain a healthy weight.

Childhood obesity is considered one of the biggest health threats facing children today. In fact, nearly one-third of American children are overweight or obese. And that extra weight can have a huge impact on their health in the long term – both physical and emotional.

Obesity puts kids at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis, as well as depression and poor self-esteem. Plus, overweight or obese children are more likely to become obese adults.

But we can turn the tide on childhood obesity, starting in our own families. Check out these seven tips to help your kids build healthy habits and maintain a healthy weight for a lifetime:

1. Stock up on healthy food. Having healthy food options on hand helps get rid of the temptation to snack on unhealthy items or grab fast food. Take your kids grocery shopping with you so that they can pick out their favorite fruits, veggies and healthy snacks like string cheese, plain popcorn or raw almonds. You can also add veggies to their other favorite foods. For example, sneak spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, carrots and peppers into pasta dishes, casseroles and even puréed into pizza sauce.

2. Cut out the sugar. Sugar isn’t one of the major food groups and should be reserved as an occasional treat. This includes juices and sports drinks, which can have as much or more sugar than soda. And avoid sugar-free drinks, as well. Recent studies show that artificial sweeteners can do more harm than good. Stick with water and save the cake for birthdays. It may not be easy, but your kids will thank you in the long run (and their dentist will, too).

3. Practice mindfulness at mealtimes. Teach your kids to pause and think about the food they’re eating – how it tastes, how to chew slowly and how to stop eating before they feel stuffed. And make it a ritual to keep screens big and small turned off and out of sight during meals.

4. Encourage your kids to be active. Not only does physical activity help fend off obesity while building strong muscles and bones, it can also lower anxiety and improve self-esteem. Children ages 6 to 17 should get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. And the best way to get your children to exercise is by calling it something else: play. Encourage kids to get out and play – whether it’s kicking around a soccer ball, climbing on the playground or playing tag.

5. Be active yourself. Putting your money where your mouth is shows your kids that you truly believe in the importance of exercise. If you stick with your goals and make time for exercise, they’ll be more likely to follow your lead and make exercise a priority, too.

6. Cut back on screen time. We’ve known for a while that too much time in front of a TV or computer screen (instead of being active at play) isn’t good for kids. But research is getting more specific about the various ways screen time can have negative consequences. For example, recent studies link a greater awareness of fast-food ads on TV with obesity in children. And watching TV late at night can be another obesity trigger since a lack of sleep puts kids at a higher obesity risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends talking to your kids about food advertising and monitoring and limiting screen time.

7. Watch their weight and body mass index (BMI). The AAP recommends having your pediatrician monitor your child’s weight and BMI. This can help make sure that they are able to maintain a healthy weight for their age, sex and height as they grow.