5 tips to help your kid achieve a healthy weight

Obesity is a growing health concern among Canadian youth and adults. Here are five healthy ways to help your child manage their weight

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family biking

Healthy habits for kids

In the past 25 years, the number of overweight and obese children in Canada has nearly tripled. Currently, around 26 percent of children within the ages of two to 17 are considered overweight or obese.

Here's how you can help your child achieve a healthy weight, without putting them on a diet:

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sugary drinks pop juice

1. Stop buying sugary drinks

Several studies link consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages with increased body weight among children and adolescents (same goes for adults, by the way). Pop, energy drinks, and even some juices add up in the course of a day and offer little to no discernible health value. Tom Warshawski, a pediatrician and chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, advises dramatically reducing, if not completely cutting out, all sugar-sweetened drinks.

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child sleeping

2. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep

Poor sleeping habits can actually make kids hungry. "There's a pretty strong link between sleep deprivation and excess weight gain in children, youth and adults," explains Warshawski. A bad night's sleep encourages overeating, as it increases production of a hormone (grehlin) that makes us feel hungry, while decreasing production of a hormone (leptin) that makes us feel full. Children should get around nine hours of sleep a night to set them up properly for the day ahead.

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kid watching tv

3. Gradually reduce a child's screen time

Research suggests that the more time children spend in front of the TV or computer, the greater the likelihood of their being overweight or obese. Over the past 30 years, the amount of screen time has dramatically increased among kids, and more and more children are watching TV at even younger ages. In the 1970s, the median age kids began watching TV was four years old. Today, kids are watching TV as early as five months old, despite warnings that screen time should be zero for children under two, and limited to one hour a day for kids two to five. Warshawski advises setting firm time limits for TV watching and other screen-related activities. No more than an hour or two a day, says Warshawski.

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summer fun kids

4. Encourage active playtime

Kids don't need formal exercise to be considered active-they just need to move their bodies for at least 60 minutes a day, says Tracey Bridger, a pediatric endocrinologist and the medical director of the Lifestyle Program at the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John's, Nfld.

 

Playing with Lego in the living room, or going to the park after school to play on the swings is more than enough, says Warshawski. "[Activity] doesn't have to be structured, kids just need to be moving and having fun doing so. Walk to the park and back and let them run around."

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family play

5. Don't forget about emotional health

A healthy diet and fun-based physical activity is part of the prescription for a healthy childhood, but so are overall happiness and a developing sense of self-worth. "Never forget about all those other things that make us feel good and well," cautions Bridger. "That includes doing things that promote self-esteem. It could be things like helping your child discover what they're good at and encouraging them to do it."

Related:
Should you put your child on a diet?
3 family fitness ideas
6 ways to build healthy body image in your kids