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How to Keep Your Kids Active and Healthy

By Matthew Accardi, MS - This article originally published on Get Healthy Stay Healthy.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that usually occurs in adults; however, more and more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were approximately 208,000 people younger than age 20 with diagnosed diabetes (type 1 or type 2 diabetes) in the United States in 2012. Childhood obesity, which has been on the rise for the past 30 years, is a common finding in type 2 diabetes. In 2012, the CDC estimated that more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. In addition to increasing the child's risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity can lead to other health effects, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and bone and joint problems.

Americans Are Moving Less

Overweight and obesity are often caused when energy intake (calories) exceeds the energy your body uses. People are more likely to be overweight if they have unhealthy eating habits and if they are physically inactive. In addition to the amount of physical activity people do during their leisure time, recent studies have shown that physical activity in children tends to decline during middle childhood and adolescence. The decline in physical activity may be partially due to the fact that we live in a digital world where many adults and children sit in front of computers or mobile screens. Modern technology at home and work may be making us less physically active. In addition to this less active lifestyle, research suggests that in general, American families, are also eating oversized food portions and consuming more processed foods, fast food, and foods that are high in sugar.

Time for a Change

The good news is that you can help to prevent obesity or help your child lose weight by encouraging an active lifestyle and teaching them to eat healthy foods. By doing so, you may help your child prevent or decrease immediate and long-term risks that are associated with obesity such as:

  • High blood sugar levels
  • Decreased insulin sensitivity (this means that your body needs more insulin)
  • Heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Social and psychological problems
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Impaired performance at school

Keep Your Kids Active!

As parents, it is important to set goals for family fitness. There are many activities you can do together and have fun. Here are some ideas you might want to try:

  • Encourage children to participate in organized sports (e.g., soccer, basketball, baseball, karate, dance)
  • Encourage creativity—they can probably make up a game to play in a matter of seconds!
  • Go for a walk before or after dinner—take the dog along (if you have a dog, that is)
  • Stop at a nearby park or a playground
  • Schedule time for a fun family activity—consider gardening, playing ball or cooking together
  • Teach them what you like to do—take them swimming, roller-blading or hiking with you
  • Set a limit on the number of hours that electronics can be in use

Following a Healthy Diet Also Counts

Encourage healthy eating habits for your child. Some basic tips include:

  • As a rule of thumb, fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits
  • Eat more whole grains when possible, by replacing white bread with whole-wheat bread
  • Eat lean meats or fish
  • Serve fat-free milk or low-fat (1%) milk
  • Serve smaller portions
  • Eat slowly to enjoy food—try to have a family conversation over your meal or remove all mobile devices from the dinner table
  • Drink more water and avoid sugary drinks
  • Limit eating fast food, unhealthy snacks and processed foods

Be a Role Model for Your Kids

When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle and keeping children active and fit, parents can be excellent role models. Children are more likely to follow the behaviors of their parents. Be a positive example and show them what it means to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Taking a few simple steps to change your own behavior can help change your child's behavior for the rest of their lives.

Help your child develop healthy habits early on—it's much harder breaking bad eating and lifestyle habits after they become adults. By setting a good example and creating a few new behaviors, you can help make a genuine difference for the young person in your life!

Matthew Accardi, MS was a fitness expert at Pfizer's Health and Fitness Center.