From Parenting 24/7: University of Illinois Extension


Healthy Habits: Staying Fit

Posted , updated Jun 10, 2005.

Healthy Habits: Staying Fit

Being overweight is an increasing health issue affecting children and adolescents today. The number of children who are overweight has doubled in the last 20 years with one in five children now considered overweight.

There are many causes for the rising weight of both America’s children and adults. There’s no doubt genetics plays a role, but genes alone can’t account for the huge increase over that past few decades. The main culprits are the same as those for adult overweight and obesity: eating too much and moving too little.

Did You Know

  • Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult disease, has increased dramatically in children and adolescents. Overweight and obesity are closely linked to type 2 diabetes.
  • One of the most severe problems for severely overweight children is sleep apnea (interrupted breathing while sleeping). In some cases this can lead to problems with learning and memory.
  • Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80 percent if a parent is overweight or obese.
  • Children believe that being overweight causes social discrimination. This can be associated with poor self-esteem and depression.

Know Your Portion Sizes

With the ever-expanding size of food portions served in restaurants, it’s hard to know what is a realistic portion size for both children and adults. Here are some helpful tips:
  • 3 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish are about the size of a woman’s palm, or a deck of playing cards
  • 1/2 cup of cut fruit, vegetables, or pasta is about the size of a small fist
  • 1 cup of milk, yogurt or chopped fresh greens is about the size of a small hand holding a tennis ball
  • An ounce of cheese is about the size of your thumb
  • A teaspoon of margarine is about the size of your thumb tip

Make Time for Activity

  • Plan Family Walks. Parents who make time for walking or to exercise regularly are setting an example that exercise is important to our health. Here are some ideas to increase your family’s activity and have fun, too. Walk around the neighborhood and point out the seasonal changes. Vary your trips with bikes, scooters, or skateboards.
  • Work Together on Household Chores. Set a timer for 15 minutes and let your family run as fast as they can putting things away. You will get exercise and a clean house.
  • Limit TV, Videos, Video Games, and Computer Games Play catch, baseball, basketball or tennis. Put on some music and dance with scarves, ribbons, or crepe paper streamers. Place a broom over two chair backs and limbo under it to the other side. Bring out a game of twister. Play hopscotch with chalk and rocks on the sidewalk or driveway.

Healthy Communities

We can all try at home and in our community to increase physical activity and healthier eating. Here are some tips.

  • Locate Safe Play and Recreation Areas. Safe places for you and your children to play are important for increasing physical activity. If you have a yard, check it for potential hazards then use it for active outdoor play. Don’t have a yard; look around your community for parks or places where you or your children can play safely.
  • Promote Access to Fruits and Vegetables. Encourage grocery stores and convenience stores to stock healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. During summer months, inexpensive produce can be made available through a farmers market or by establishing community gardens in vacant city lots. If you have land available, grow your own garden. You can get a workout and fresh produce, too!
  • Walk to School. Walking or biking to school is a way to increase physical activity. Start a “walking school bus” where parents take turns walking with children to and from school. Also encourage city officials to install or maintain sidewalks and bike lanes for safety.
  • Support School Food Service. Encourage your school to offer a healthy school lunch and breakfast program. Besides providing healthy meals, children who participate in school lunch and breakfast score better on tests and have better attendance. If the school has vending machines, ask school officials to offer healthy options like fruit, low fat snacks, low fat milk, and 100% juice.
  • Promote Nutrition & Physical Education in Schools. Active, healthy children learn better. Schools can help teach your child about living a healthy lifestyle and provide physical activity on a regular basis.

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