The numbers can’t be ignored: Roughly a third of children in the United States are now overweight or obese. In response, a growing number of schools are rolling
out initiatives aimed at reversing the trend.
Some have begun including children’s body
mass indexes on report cards; others are
holding classroom fitness challenges. The
downside of such programs is that they can
cause kids of all sizes to feel judged, says
child-development expert Michele Borba,
Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting
Solutions (Jossey-Bass). Take a tactful
approach with these encouraging openers.
“Should we go for a hike or shoot
hoops this afternoon?” In addition to
helping your child build muscle strength
and torch calories, physical activity boosts
self-esteem and academic performance.
But for kids, the greatest motivator is fun.
So instead of making exercise seem like,
well, exercise, have them choose a physical
activity they’ll enjoy—and get in on the
action yourself. “Despite their reputation
for crankiness, teens and tweens do want to
spend time with their families,” Borba says.
“Turning exercise into a group activity is a
great way to get them on board.”
“Help me map out your lunches.”
Older kids are a lot like toddlers when it
comes to food: They’re more likely to eat
something they’ve had a hand in preparing.
Tap your teen’s desire for independence
by going one step further and teaching her
grown-up skills such as meal planning and
grocery shopping, Borba says. First, discuss
what goes into a balanced lunch—lean
protein, whole grains, fresh produce, and
low-fat dairy—then shop for food together.
“What nights will you be home for
dinner this week?” Kids who regularly
eat meals with their families tend to
have healthier diets and better grades
than those who often eat on their own.
Try using a central calendar to track
everyone’s schedules and pinpoint times
to get together. If dinners aren’t doable,
breakfasts and snacks can work, too. When
your child sees how much you enjoy fruits
and veggies, she’ll be inspired to make
better choices, Borba says.
“Let’s open a savings account for you.”
Does your child squander his allowance
on candy and sodas? Try portioning out
his pay in bigger bills (think fives instead
of ones). The larger denominations kids
carry, the less likely they are to make
unhealthy impulse purchases, according
to a University of California study. While
you’re at it, set up a savings account for him.
When he sees his balance grow toward a
bigger goal—such as that video game he’s
been bugging you for—he’ll have even more
reason to skip the vending machine.
“What TV shows should we watch
this week?” In a survey from the Kaiser
Family Foundation, 45 percent of young
people said the television is left on most
of the time in their homes. All that idle
viewing can chip away at sleep, schoolwork,
and staying active. Instead, turn TV
watching into a planned event your child
can look forward to, Borba suggests. Have
her pick a few favorite shows, and keep the
tube turned off the rest of the time.
“I’m glad I went for a walk today.
I feel great!” What you say about your
health and body has a powerful trickle-down effect, Borba says. When you meet a
healthy goal, stick to positive statements
about how you feel, not how you look. And
if you experience a setback, don’t beat
yourself up. “Your kids will pick up on the
message—even if it’s subtle,” Borba says,
“and follow your good example.”
better homes and gardens | healthy lifestyles 15
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