7 Tips to Help Your Child Live Healthier

Len Saunders

It is a busy world out there, not only for the parent, but for the child. With large amounts of homework, team sports, social obligations, technology, and other extra-curricular activities, your little 'executives' are finding less time to eat healthy and exercise. This lifestyle is causing a generation of children whose life expectancy could potentially be shorter than their parents. With heart disease on the rise in children (high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, high triglycerides, increased insulin levels, physical activity, and obesity), parents should be overwhelmingly concerned about their children's lifestyle.

Simple changes can go a long way to helping your children continue to live healthy. Education is the key! There are many reputable web sites on the net that can assist parents with the challenges many kids face today with regards to nutrition, exercise, hydration, or sleep. One excellent resource is the We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition) Program presented by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to Dr. Melinda Kelley of the NIH, simple changes can benefit children such as "making fruits and veggies their top snack choices as well as keeping screen time under 2 hours a day." In addition to Dr Kelly's advice, here are seven additional tips from the experts that may help your children move on a path to greater health.

Tip 1: Heather Stouffer of Organic Mom Made Foods: "What's behind a label? Both parents and children should learn how to decipher a food label, so parents can stock the fridge with healthy snacks and kids can learn how to make health choices! Green flags for food labels include all-natural, organic, low in sodium, and high in protein (tip for kids- the shorter list the better!). Red food label flags include dyes, food coloring and high fructose corn syrup."

Tip 2: Kimberly Harms: "Lead by example. Children see and understand a lot more than we give them credit for. So eat right, exercise and make healthy choices at home and out on the town. It's not what you say but what you do on a continual basis."

Tip 3: Dr. Robert Oexman, Director of the Sleep to Live Institute. "Snack smartly: If children need a snack in the evening, choose a healthy, carbohydrate-rich snack such as half a wheat bagel, since carbs produce melatonin, making it easier for children to fall asleep. Make sure to avoid high-calorie, fatty snacks like chocolate which contains caffeine.

Tip 4: Jeremy Shih, Co-founder of CampusFit. "Instead of counting calories or pounds (traditional), ask your child to build in one good habit that they can easily accomplish. Once this habit has been established, proceed to adding the next habit. This approach is not only "healthier" in nature, but it will enforce quality of life as opposed to irrelevant and intangible numbers.

Tip 5: Kathleen Dunn, Registered Dietitian. "Make the family meal a regular habit. Children who enjoy regular family meals are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods and less likely to drink sugary soft drinks and other empty-calorie foods. What's more, children-and parents-who eat regular family meals tend to maintain leaner, healthier body weights."

Tip 6: Victoria Jarzabkowski, RD, LD, Pediatric Registered Dietitian. "Take Control of the Food that is Available in the House. If you don't want your child eating unhealthy foods, then your job as a parent is to stock your kitchen and pantry with only healthy meals and snacks. Once children get older and gain independence, they start to help themselves to food as they please. Therefore, if you don't stock your pantry with unhealthy foods, then your child no longer has easy access to them and won't be consuming them. While this sounds simple, many parents are still reluctant to stop buying soda, sweets and other unhealthy foods because they want them for themselves, but this is not a time to be selfish. Sacrificing your sweets is a small price to pay for a healthy child."

Tip 7: Amber O'Neil, Certified Personal Trainer & Owner, Café Physique. "Link rewards to a fun physical activity. Instead of enforcing good behavior with extra screen time or a sweet treat, reward you child’s efforts with a fun outing like bowling, park playtime, swimming, bike riding on a unexplored path, roller skating, an impromptu Frisbee tournament, etc. By making physical activity a regularly anticipated part of your child’s week, and joining in on these activities with him/her, you’ll be creating a lifelong love of fun…and fitness.

- - Len Saunders is the author of Keeping Kids Fit, and nationally recognized for his work combating childhood obesity.