July 5, 1998 | By: Ellen Brightwell

The combination of healthy food choices and regular physical activity -- not a hamburger and French fries -- will help children and teenagers lose weight and keep it off. And by setting an example parents can help their children achieve this goal.

"The focus of growing children's weight management should be to eat an adequate amount of a variety of foods and increase physical activity. Young children shouldn't restrict calories to achieve a healthy weight because this practice can retard or stunt growth as well as impair learning," Sandra Bastin, Extension food and nutrition specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"Setting a good example of healthful eating habits and regular physical activity is one of the best ways for parents to help children make weight management a lifetime habit," Bastin added. "Use the Food Guide Pyramid as the foundation for meals and snacks to add variety to the diet and give children the nutrients needed for growth and development.

"To increase variety in your children's diets, gradually offer new foods at mealtime. While children might not like them at first, research shows that repeated exposure to new foods increases acceptance of them."

Parental example also will help children make regular physical activity a lifetime habit, according to Bastin.

"Children whose parents exercise or participate in vigorous recreational activities tend to be more active themselves," she said. "Make physical activity a routine part of your family's lifestyle for 20-30 minutes at least three times a week. To maintain your children's interest and participation, choose a variety of fun activities such as hiking, nature walks, camping or canoeing trips, swimming or bicycling."

In addition to helping children manage weight, regular physical activity increases strength and coordination, reduces stress, and builds self-confidence, according to the American Dietetic Association.

Another reason weight management is important is that obesity is a common problem for American children, according to Bastin.

"One in four American children is overweight," she said. "Obesity increases the risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some types of cancer in children as well as adults."

Bastin gave these tips to help children develop healthful eating habits:

* Plan regular meals and shacks. Discourage eating between meals and snacks.

* Teach children to eat slowly and pay attention to eating. This helps them to realize when they are full and prevents overeating.

*Keep a variety of low-calorie foods on hand. Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain crackers or bread, and other high-fiber foods are a good choice because they are healthful and filling. However, don't remove all high-calorie, high-fat foods from your children's diets as this may cause them to go overboard on "sneaked snacks." Moderation is the key.

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: Sandra Bastin
(606) 257-1812