How to Fight Childhood Obesity

Nutrition DIva's 4 tips for raising healthier kids.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #153

If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know I don’t think very highly of processed fruit juices…even the ones that claim to provide a serving of vegetables. This is where the USDA and I differ -- I don’t believe these drinks should count as a serving of fruits and/or vegetables.  Nutritionally speaking, a glass of apple juice—even 100% unsweetened apple juice—is virtually indistinguishable from a glass of ginger ale. 

See also:  Is Fruit Good for You?

Sports drinks like Gatorade are also overused and overrated.  Perhaps the association of these beverages with sports makes them seem harmless or even beneficial. But there’s no reason for anyone to suck this stuff down by the quart.  If kids are exercising hard for an extended period of time or in very hot conditions, these drinks can help replace electrolytes and keep them hydrated. Otherwise, water is really the ideal

See also:  What to Eat Before, During, and After Sports

Tip #2: Limit Screen Time

There is a direct correlation between the amount of time kids spend in front of screens—including TVs, computers, games, and hand-helds—and their weight. Too much screen time is also a risk factor for ADD and other learning disorders.

With the exception of those video games where you’re dancing or otherwise moving around a lot, screen time is usually extremely sedentary. It’s also easy to snack mindlessly when you’re sitting in front of the TV or computer. And screen time increases kids’ exposure to aggressive marketing for junk and fast foods—and if you don’t think that influences their behavior, you’re underestimating the power of advertising.
When you set limits on screen time, kids have to find other ways to keep busy: kicking around a soccer ball, riding bikes to a friend’s house, weeding the garden (hey, a girl can dream!), or whatever. One or two hours of screen time per day, not counting screen time that’s legitimately homework-related, is plenty. 

Of course, setting a limit is one thing: enforcing it is another. Removing TVs and computers from kids’ bedrooms is helpful, as is turning the TV off during dinner. There are also some free software applications and other devices that you can use to restrict your kids’ access to the internet, television, and other electronics when you’re not around to police them yourself.

Tip #3: Walk the Walk

There’s really no way around this:  Kids with overweight parents are much more likely to be overweight themselves.  If you’re serious about raising healthy kids, you’re going to have to get serious about your own lifestyle.  That means cutting back on your own screen time, being more active, and eating healthier. 

So turn off the TV.  Prepare a meal—even a simple one—and sit down at the table to eat it. Take a walk or a bike ride after dinner.  Your kids may act as if you are the last one they’d ever turn to for advice, but the truth is that they will imitate your habits—both the good and bad. And the habits they develop now will follow them into their adult lives.

Keep in Touch

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.