Q: Every winter, my children struggle with staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. This year, they are 10 and 12 years old, and they have already gained weight over the holidays. It seems they only want to stay inside and eat. What can I do to help them be active, stop overeating and keep their weight down?
A: You raise a concern that many parents struggle with: how to help their children be active, eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight. Although these concerns are present all year, the winter adds a degree of challenge. The number of overweight children in the U.S. has increased more than 30 percent in the last 30 years, activity levels are down considerably and screen time is up. What can you do as a parent to help your children?
Unfortunately, the days are gone when parents can simply tell children to “go outside and play,” especially during the cold, dark winter months. Instead, children want to be in front of screens (TV, computer, handheld devices) and frequently snacking, habits that undermine a healthy lifestyle. The antidote to these behaviors is physical activity and healthy eating. The burden is on parents to engage their children in a healthier lifestyle. Here are some ways that you can help your children be healthy any time of the year:
First and foremost, parents are the ultimate role models for being fit and eating healthy. So, limit your own TV and screen time, increase physical activity, and eat the right foods.
Remove TVs and computers from your children’s bedroom. They may object at first, but over time they will unconsciously sense the benefits of less screen time and feel more connected to the world around them.
Consider practicing the concept of being mindful. Mindfulness is being aware in the present and helps break unconscious habits such as snacking and using screens incessantly (constantly checking email or Facebook). For example, you and your children can ask yourselves, “Do I really want this food?” instead of thoughtlessly eating because that is what you typically do.