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Six Tips for a Family Approach to Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Back to school time means the return of a more disciplined family routines. It’s the perfect time to introduce some simple habits that will help kids (and parents) maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight.

September is also National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Almost 20% of children and

35% of adults in the U.S. are obese according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Children who are overweight have a much higher chance of growing into obese adults and suffering from the various related medical illnesses: diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and an increased risk of several cancers, not to mention an increased risk of bullying, poor self-esteem, and mental health problems in obese children.

The solution: make a pledge with your children to form healthy eating habits together now. Children learn best when they’re involved in decision making and can emulate their parents’
better eating habits.

Here are six healthy habits to instill in your children (and yourself) right now:
  • Breakfast powers the day. Avoid sugary cereals in favor of more balanced choices such as oatmeal with almonds or walnuts. Eggs and cottage cheese are tasty and healthy for breakfast. Excessive after-supper snacks are particularly harmful and promote weight gain. Look for snacks that contain nuts or fresh fruit. Remember chips and popcorn are not healthy snacks.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Sounds simple but harder to do in reality. Start with some simple steps. Reduce or eliminate pre-packaged foods. Buy more whole fruits and vegetables that your family enjoys. Minimize take-out foods that can be extremely heavy in calories and saturated fats. Look for healthy salads as take-out alternatives.
  • Get enough to drink – and most of the time, make it water. Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger. Staying well hydrated can help you avoid eating when you’re not actually hungry. Just be sure that water, and not sugary or calorie-heavy drinks, is most often your family’s first choice. Even fruit juices, which are high in calories, should be reduced or eliminated.
  • Find fun ways to be active. Regular physical activity is essential to overall health. Additionally, boredom can be mistaken for hunger in children. Make physical activity sustainable by making it fun and something the entire family can do together. Walk the dog, ride bikes, play tag, shoot some hoops, jump rope or have a dance party in the living room.
  • Get enough sleep. Sufficient sleep is key to providing the energy your body needs without having to turn to sugary foods or caffeine for an artificial boost. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nine to 12 hours per day for children ages six to 12 and eight to 10 hours for teens aged 13 to 18. Adults need between six and nine hours per day. Eliminate TV screen time, phones, and other electronics at least 60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Make a plan and know where to go for help and ideas. Plan your meals each week and food shop accordingly; having a list reduces the chance of unhealthy impulse buys. Schedule time in your calendar for fun physical activity. The National Institutes of Health has an excellent website for more healthy tips at

Dr. Raja Fattaleh is a family medicine physician practicing in Putnam and is affiliated with Day Kimball Hospital. He will be starting an office practice specializing in diabetes and weight loss soon.

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