By Maiyu Fernandez MPH, RDN, LN, Director of Nutrition, and Joyce Adams, Nutrition Intern
Childhood obesity continues to sharply rise all around the globe; 13.7 million children in the United States are affected by obesity. Although the prevalence of childhood obesity in the DC area is lower than the national average, it is far from ideal.
In observance of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, Mary’s Center’s Nutrition Team would like to share our top 7 healthy lifestyle tips in supporting your child’s growing body:
- Fill your family’s plate with fruits and vegetables, whichpack a lot of vitamins and are lower in calories but also filling. No need to always buy fresh – try frozen, which are budget friendly and pack as many vitamins as the fresh variety. Experiment in your kitchen with your child. Foods can be combined to pack even more nutrients for your family; add carrots to a sweet potato mash or orange bell peppers to your child’s favorite spaghetti sauce.
- Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages that contribute to a variety of health conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Get to know the nutrition labels on your children’s drinks, and keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon. We know that soda is packed with sugar (9.25 teaspoons in a 12-ounce can), but did you know that a 20-ounce Gatorade has almost the equivalent at 8.5 teaspoons of sugar? Instead of a sugar-filled drink, make an infused water beverage with your family. Strawberry and mint make a refreshing combination, as well as lemon and cucumber.
- Introduce portion control. Use your child’s hands to approximate their own portions: Use their fist to measure their grains and fruit portions, use the size of their palm to measure their protein, and use the size of their hands to measure their vegetable portion. When making their plate, include no more than one fistful of grains and one palm-sized amount of protein, and remember that vegetables should be the largest portion on their plate, at least two handfuls!
- Maintain a healthy bedtime routine. Sleep is pivotal in a healthy growing body. Aim to put your child to bed and wake them at the same time every day. Limit your child’s bed to sleeping; the more your child solely uses their bed for sleeping, the more likely their brain will associate it with sleep. Quiet and calming activities around bedtime are encouraged, giving a signal to the brain that it is time to wind down from the day.
- Be a fitness and exercise model for your children. Telling children to go exercise is not enough; children are more likely to model what they see their parents do. If children see parents exercising, they are more likely to follow suit.
- Exercise with your children. Go for family walks after dinner or explore your nearby parks. Ride bikes together or walk alongside while they ride in your neighborhood. It’s not only a way to be active with your child, but also an opportunity to bond over fitness.
- Select toys and games that encourage physical activity. While technology can be great, many video games don’t involve much movement. Toys like balls, frisbees, jump ropes, roller skates, and bicycles will keep kids moving. Make sure to have the necessary safety helmets for bikes and skates. And of course, wear masks and practice social distancing when outside!
Keep in mind that children can grow at different rates and patterns, as evidenced on a growth chart. Every child is unique in their height and weight. If you are concerned about your child’s growth, please reach out to a Mary’s Center pediatrician as well as one of our nutritionists.