Healthy eating and physical
activity habits are key to your child's well-being.
Eating too much and exercising too little can lead
to overweight and related health problems that can
follow children into their adult years. You can
take an active role in helping your child—
your whole family— healthy eating and
physical activity habits that can last for a
Because children grow at different
rates at different times, it is not always easy to
tell if a child is overweight. If you think that
your child is overweight, talk to your health care
provider. He or she can measure your child's height
and weight and tell you if your child is in a
Tell your child that he or she is loved, is
special, and is important. Children's feelings
about themselves often are based on their
parents' feelings about them.
Accept your child at any weight. Children
will be more likely to accept and feel good about
themselves when their parents accept them.
Listen to your child's concerns about his or
her weight. Overweight children probably know
better than anyone else that they have a weight
problem. They need support, understanding, and
encouragement from parents.
Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables
(fresh, frozen, or canned). Let your child choose
them at the store.
Buy fewer soft drinks and high fat/high
calorie snack foods like chips, cookies, and
candy. These snacks are OK once in a while, but
keep healthy snack foods on hand too and offer
them to your child more often.
every day. Skipping breakfast can leave your
child hungry, tired, and looking for less healthy
foods later in the day.
Plan healthy meals and eat together as a
family. Eating together at meal times helps
children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
Eat fast food less often. When you visit a
fast food restaurant, try the healthful options
Offer your child water or low-fat milk more
often than fruit juice. Fruit juice is a healthy
choice but is high in calories.
Do not get discouraged if your child will not
eat a new food the first time it is served. Some
kids will need to have a new food served to them
10 times or more before they will eat it.
Try not to use food as a reward when
encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a
child for eating vegetables, for example, sends
the message that vegetables are less valuable
than dessert. Kids learn to dislike foods they
think are less valuable.
Start with small servings and let your child
ask for more if he or she is still hungry. It is
up to you to provide your child with healthy
meals and snacks, but your child should be
allowed to choose how much food he or she will
Healthy snack foods for your child
Fruit canned in juice or light syrup
Small amounts of dried fruits such as
raisins, apple rings, or apricots
Fresh vegetables such as baby carrots,
cucumber, zucchini, or tomatoes
Reduced fat cheese or a small amount of
peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers
Low-fat yogurt with fruit
Graham crackers, animal crackers, or low-fat
Foods that are small, round, sticky, or hard
to chew, such as raisins, whole grapes, hard
vegetables, hard chunks of cheese, nuts, seeds, and
popcorn can cause choking in children under age 4.
You can still prepare some of these foods for young
children, for example, by cutting grapes into small
pieces and cooking and cutting up vegetables.
Always watch your toddler during meals and
Like adults, kids need daily physical activity.
Here are some ways to help your child move every
Set a good
example. If your children see that you are
physically active and have fun, they are more
likely to be active and stay active throughout
Encourage your child to join a sports team or
class, such as soccer, dance, basketball, or
gymnastics at school or at your local community
or recreation center.
Be sensitive to your child's needs. If your
child feels uncomfortable participating in
activities like sports, help him or her find
physical activities that are fun and not
Be active together as a family. Assign active
chores such as making the beds, washing the car,
or vacuuming. Plan active outings such as a trip
to the zoo or a walk through a local park.
Because his or her body is not ready yet, do not
encourage your pre-adolescent child to participate
in adult-style physical activity such as long jogs,
using an exercise bike or treadmill, or lifting
heavy weights. FUN
physical activities are best for kids.
Kids need a total of about 60 minutes of
physical activity a day, but this does not have to
be all at one time. Short 10- or even 5-minute
bouts of activity throughout the day are just as
good. If your children are not used to being
active, encourage them to start with what they can
do and build up to 60 minutes a day.
Set limits on the amount of time your family
spends watching TV and videos, and playing video
Help your child find FUN
things to do besides watching TV, like acting out
favorite books or stories, or doing a family art
project. Your child may find that creative play
is more interesting than television.
Encourage your child to get up and move
during commercials and discourage snacking when
the TV is on.
Be a positive role
Children are good learners and they learn what
they see. Choose healthy foods and active pastimes
for yourself. Your children will see that they can
follow healthy habits that last a lifetime.
Ask your health care provider for brochures,
booklets, or other information about healthy
eating, physical activity, and weight control. He
or she may be able to refer you to other health
care professionals who work with overweight
children, such as registered dietitians,
psychologists, and exercise physiologists.
You may want to think about a treatment program
You have changed your family's eating and
physical activity habits and your child has not
reached a healthy weight.
Your health care provider has told you that
your child's health or emotional well-being is at
risk because of his or her weight.
The overall goal of a treatment program should
be to help your whole family adopt healthy eating
and physical activity habits that you can keep up
for the rest of your lives. Here are some other
things a weight-control program should do:
Include a variety of health care
professionals on staff: doctors, registered
dietitians, psychiatrists or psychologists,
and/or exercise physiologists.
Evaluate your child's weight, growth, and
health before enrolling in the program and watch
these factors while enrolled.
Adapt to the specific age and abilities of
your child. Programs for 4-year-olds should be
different from those for 12-year-olds.
Help your family keep up healthy eating and
physical activity behaviors after the program
Plan can help you make healthier food
choices from every food group and find your balance
between food and physical activity. MyPyramid
replaces the Food Guide Pyramid. Available from the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at www.mypyramid.gov
Tips for Using the Food
Guide Pyramid for Young Children 2 to 6 Years
Old can help you teach your young
child what to eat to grow and stay healthy.
Available from the U.S. Government Printing Office,
Healthy Eating and
Physical Activity Across Your Lifespan: