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Raising Healthy Children

The number of overweight children in the United States has more than doubled in the past two decades, with one in five children currently being overweight.

What has changed?

“Over the past 20 years, genetics has not changed. What our kids do and what they eat have changed,” says Maria Boosalis, Ph.D., associate professor of clinical nutrition, University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences. “In short, our children are eating more, especially those foods that are higher in sugar and fat, while being less physically active.”

The problem

  • Each week, children watch approximately 24 hours of television; they play video games and sit at the computer.
  • Newer neighborhoods are built without parks or sidewalks, with smaller yards and fewer safe places for kids to play.
  • In schools, children spend less time at recess, have fewer physical education classes, with sodas and candy.
  • In stores, fresh fruits and vegetables usually cost more than high-fat, high-sugar foods.
  • In general, people tend to drive, not walk or bike; they snack on sweets and chips; and they drink sweetened sodas rather than water.
  • With two parents working, it’s easier and cheaper to stop for fast food rather than cooking nutritious dinners.

The solution

  • For snacks, serve peanut butter and apples; carrots and low-fat yogurt; granola or cereal and yogurt; smoothies with yogurt or low-fat ice cream with fruit; or fruit. Always remember, sweets are acceptable in moderation.
  • For lunch, use whole-grain breads with lean meat, cheese, or peanut butter; pack fruit, flavored yogurt, or graham crackers rather than chips and candy; and encourage milk, 100 percent juice, or water rather than sodas or sugary drinks.
  • Make family events active—go to the zoo or a playground, or take the family biking, hiking, or swimming.
  • Choose after-school daycare programs that include physical activity.
  • Encourage sports that can last a lifetime—swimming, tennis, biking, ice skating, dancing, and rollerblading.
    “Always remember you are your child’s role model,” Boosalis says. “If you are active and eat healthy, your child likely will do the same.”
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