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5 Simple rules for raising healthy kids

Karen Miller-Kovach is chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers International. She coordinates all clinical research for Weight Watchers International and has authored six books and contributed numerous articles to leading nutrition...

Preventing childhood obesity

Lack of activity, combined with unwise food choices, has led to a national childhood obesity epidemic, where nearly one third of American children are overweight. Research done by Weight Watchers indicates that the solution is not to put kids on diets, but instead to focus on creating a more healthful lifestyle. Critical to this effort is that parents serve as role models. Helping families adopt habits that support a healthy weight not only helps children now (whether they have a weight issue or not), but helps teach kids skills and habits that can last a lifetime. Here are the most important components for raising healthy kids and, essentially, healthy families.

Family on bikes

Adopt proven weight-friendly family habits

Our recent pilot program, Weight Watchers Family, emphasized proven strategies and techniques based on Five Simple Rules that create weight-friendly habits for the entire family. These include focusing on wholesome, nutritious foods, incorporating treats in moderation, limiting screen time, encouraging at least one hour of activity a day and, most importantly, having all family members adhere to these fundamental changes.

In the pilot program, Weight Watchers coaches led 8- to 10-week courses one hour per week with the parents of more than 100 overweight or obese children. Home visits that included weighing all the kids in the house were then made every three months for a year. After the year, 67 percent of the children in the study had improved their weight status, with progressive improvements at each of the check points.

5 Simple rules for raising healthy kids

Here are some practical tips on how to help your family foster these healthy habits.

No. 1: Focus on wholesome, nutritious foods

Concentrate on providing foods that are rich in nutrients but not packed with calories, focusing on whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and low- or non-fat dairy. Replace soda and fruit juices with water or non-fat milk. Add a small amount of healthy oil (canola or olive) to get the vitamin E that is often missing from lower fat diets. Watch out for hidden fats and sugars in prepared and processed foods.

When and how kids eat is also important. As a family, always eat a wholesome breakfast, such as a whole-grain cereal, fresh fruit and calcium-rich milk. Children also benefit from snacks that contribute nutritional value. Families should eat together as often as possible to promote togetherness and allows parents to demonstrate the eating healthy means eating well.

Chef Mario Batali on the food-family connection

No. 2: Include healthy treats

Allow kids to choose one or two treats a day as part of their eating routine. Keep portions age-appropriate and avoid using the treats as a reward. Including treats in the daily diet shows kids that these foods can be part of healthful living and teaches them how to make good choices.

10 Family-friendly organic snack treats

No. 3: Limit screen time

Television, computers and video games have become dominant forms of recreation in our society. Excluding homework, strive to limit children older than two to two hours per day, and no screen time for children under two years old. Some ways to encourage less screen time is to plan alternative, family-oriented activities and to keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom.

Kids and TV: How much is too much?

No. 4: Be active for one hour or more every day

While an hour may sound like a lot, playtime can be incorporated with effort and creativity. Playing tag, flying a kite or riding bikes to the store are just some of the many ways to incorporate non-sedentary fun into family time.

Fun family activities

No. 5: The rules apply to everyone in the home

The Five Simple Rules are good for everyone, young or old, overweight or thin. Lead by example and show that eating well and moving around are keys to sharing great times together.

Losing weight as a family

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