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How to raise a healthy, active child

Family.+%28Photo+by+Sabrina+Bracher%2C+iStock+Getty+Images+via+StatePoint%29
Family. (Photo by Sabrina Bracher, iStock Getty Images via StatePoint)

Many factors impact your child or teen’s wellness, including where you live, genetics and other influences. According to experts though, you can encourage a healthy lifestyle for your child, and help prevent obesity and other illnesses that can extend into adulthood.

“Raising a healthy, active child is about much more than nutrition and physical activity,” says Natalie D. Muth, a pediatrician and registered dietician. “It also entails adequate sleep, a positive approach to screen use and social-emotional wellness, and to the best of your ability, helping ensure your surrounding environment supports healthy routines.”

At a time when few children and adolescents meet the recommendations for nutrition and activity, a new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “The Role of the Pediatrician in the Promotion of Healthy, Active Living,” offers guidance to help optimize a child’s health regardless of their weight, as well as strategies based on the best science that can also help prevent obesity at every stage, from infancy through adolescence.

Here are some practical tips from the AAP that you can use to tackle issues within your control:

✔ Learn about good nutrition. Visit MyPlate.gov for great ways to take a team approach to planning and making meals so that kids have an active role in what they eat. The site takes into account cultural traditions, giving examples of healthy meals that include familiar foods.

✔ Reach for water. Sugary drinks such as 100% fruit juice, sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks, account for 24% of added sugar intake in the U.S. diet in people 1 year and older. Consumption contributes significantly to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and other health risks, according to USDA statistics. Ideally, aim for one sugary drink or fewer per week. Bonus: drinking water cleanses teeth and gums, preventing cavities now while setting the stage for lifelong dental health.

✔ Limit ultra-processed foods. It may not be realistic to avoid ultra-processed foods altogether, but try to limit their access and help children and adolescents learn the benefits of eating whole foods like fruits and vegetables. You can also talk with them about the health risks of too much “junk food,” which is generally loaded in sugar and salt, doesn’t increase feelings of fullness, and prompts overeating.

✔ Adopt a family media plan. Everyone benefits from sensible screen time limits that make room for healthy activities. Engage kids in creating a plan for the whole family.

✔ Move more. It can be challenging to get up and move more, but when you make it a priority, kids benefit. Organized sports aren’t the only option. Your family can also enjoy walking, biking, swimming and dancing. Indoors, you can try active gaming or online fitness classes to strengthen muscles, build coordination and release tension.

✔ Manage stress. If your schedule is jammed with so many commitments that there’s no room for healthy downtime, consider what you can let go. Rest rebuilds the body’s systems after the challenges of a tough day or week, so reserve time for it.

✔ Lean on support. Not all neighborhoods have safe places for children to play and walk to school, or offer nutritious and affordable food nearby. Additionally, factors like racism, toxic stress, housing or food insecurity and safety risks can impact your child’s health. Creating a safe environment at home, and leaning on the support of schools, health care systems and the wider community can create a healthier life for your child. One important resource is your pediatrician. Talk to them about ways to support an active, healthy lifestyle for your child.

For more tips and resources, visit healthychildren.org.

“Remember that feeling loved, seen and appreciated are just as central to your child’s health as nutrition and exercise. The brain and the body are one system – so when kids feel safe and secure, their bodies function well,” says Dr. Muth.


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