Healthy lifestyle habits have a direct impact on our overall wellness, as well as the prevention of chronic disease. Lifelong wellness starts at a young age.
What can you do to help your child develop healthy habits?
How do chronic conditions impact kids?
“Two significant diseases facing our society are diabetes and obesity,” says Joia Henson, APRN-CNP, pediatric nurse practitioner with Kettering Physician Network at Springboro Health Center. “In the last decade, there has been a marked increase in the number of children who are overweight and obese, which can increase their risk of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.” Some of these “adult” conditions are already showing up more frequently in pediatric patients.
Henson notes that two primary factors can play a role in this concerning statistic: 1) sedentary lifestyle and 2) dietary choices. “Too many of us don’t focus on what our daily activity level is,” Henson says. “Whether it’s structured exercise or just getting up and walking around the neighborhood, we need to make sure we’re moving more daily.” She also notes that many of the available dietary options today have led us in a direction where many of us overconsume calories. “Empty calories like soda, juice, and iced frappe lattes are all big sources of empty calories that aren’t providing any energy or nutritional value.”
What habits should I be teaching?
Most of us would do well to eat a little less and move a little more.What else can you do to help your children? Focus on a few strategic areas to help kids understand how to make healthy lifestyle choices.
- Limit screen time. Too much screen time is detrimental to all of us. Especially in children and adolescents, limit screen time to less than two hours total per day. “That’s collective screen time,” Henson notes, “from television, video games, cell phones, and tablets combined.” Any time a child is sitting with a screen, they’re not getting any physical activity. Add that to an often already sedentary school day, and many kids struggle to get enough exercise or even simple movement. “Parents need to take an active role in monitoring how much time their children are spending on screens,” Henson says.
- Plan strategic snacks. “It’s easy to let snacking habits lead to excessive calorie consumption,” says Henson. Instead of reaching for pre-packaged snacks like granola bars or chips, Henson suggests making fruit and veggie bags in advance. “Put together a few small bags with portions of fruits or vegetables so that when kids ask for a snack, instead of grabbing something processed, they can reach into the fridge and get something like celery, carrots, or grapes.”
- Watch for liquid calories. The calories in fruit juices, sports drinks, and sodas quickly add up. “The calories we drink are an area we don’t always watch closely enough,” says Henson. “Even milk has calories. It’s important to teach kids to enjoy everything in moderation.” Water is the most important liquid and most children and adolescents don’t get enough.
- Teach them to sleep well. Every child needs time to unwind. Before bedtime, give kids a chance to engage in a relaxing activity. This could be reading, listening to music, or doing something creative. “Kids can’t be expected to be on all the time; allow them to take a break from stressors,” Henson says. She also notes that adequate activity can contribute to how well a child sleeps. Whether it’s organized sports, swimming, riding their bike, or dancing, help your child find an activity they enjoy.
- Schedule an annual checkup. Henson notes that taking an active role in your child’s annual check-up helps parents to better understand what children need to be healthy. “Do you know where your child is on a growth chart? Is your child in a normal weight range?” Henson encourages parents to be aware of what their primary health care provider advises for a child’s ongoing health. “Knowledge is power,” she notes.
How can I motivate my kids to be healthy?
“Kids are incredibly observant,” Henson says. “They’ll model the behavior they see.” The last and perhaps most important tip to raising healthy kids is to make your own health a priority—your children will thank you for it.
To find a primary care provider for yourself or your child, call 1-844-576-3627.