Healthy kids start with healthy habits

Childhood obesity month was in September. While recent reports by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate improvements in 19 states, many children remain overweight. In 2011, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta launched Strong4Life (www.strong4life.com) to help Georgia families become healthier.

Dr. Stephanie Walsh, a pediatrician, medical director for child wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and mother said, “Success with kids is about behavior. You change your behavior and your weight will find its place.”

Q: What should parents focus on to improve their children’s health?

A: “Focusing on weight doesn’t help children because they are changing, growing and going through puberty. If you focus on weight you’re missing what’s important. Focus on healthy habits,” says Walsh. “Set short-term goals with your kids that are achievable.”

Strong4Life suggests four healthy habits:

1. Make half your plate veggies and fruits.

2. Be active for 60 minutes.

3. Drink more water and limit sugary drinks.

4. Limit screen time to one hour.

Q: What can tired, busy, parents do get their family active?

A: “Even if you took your kids out for 15 minutes, it doesn’t have to be an hour all at once,” says Walsh. “You don’t have to get in the car and drive to the park and stay for a whole hour. There isn’t time for that for a lot of parents, there is 15 minutes before dinner or after dinner.”

Fifteen minutes for a family walk is a start.

“After-school, what if they play outside for 30 minutes before homework? It might not work for your family, but some children might focus better if they have that time before homework.” Walsh suggests starting where you are and build up to an hour daily.

Q: With television, tablets and video games, how do parents manage screen time?

A: “Screen time is anything with a screen,” says Walsh. “The key is to have a limit. In homes where the kids have limits, the kids have less screen time than the homes where there are no limits.” She adds, “playing active video games is usually not as active as playing outside, but it’s something.”

Q: Should parents make children join the clean-plate club and eat all their healthy food first, such as veggies, fruit and protein?

A: “If you say, ‘You have to eat all your dinner before you can have ice cream,’ the child may clear his plate and overeat to have dessert,” says Walsh. Walsh suggests “kids eat a balanced diet over the course of days, not necessarily at each meal.”

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