Practical tips on how families can live healthier

Healthy kidsWThere are concrete, practical steps your family can take to prevent obesity starting today, according to a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report, "The Role of the Pediatrician in Primary Prevention of Obesity," published in the July 2015 issue of Pediatrics offers guidance to pediatricians and families on how to include healthy habits in daily life.

"It is never too early for a family to make changes that will help a child keep or achieve a healthy weight," said Dr. Sandra Hassink, president of the AAP and co-author of the report. "Families can improve their eating habits in a variety of ways, but it is important for healthy eating and physical activity to be tailored to the child's developmental stage and family characteristics."

Childhood obesity has increased significantly in the past few decades and is a public health priority, according to the report. Parents and families are encouraged to model healthy behaviors for children.

Simple steps can help families eat healthier, including changing the food available at home and how it is stored and served. Here are some recommendations from AAP:

  • Buy fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, high-calorie snacks and sweets.
  • When buying unhealthy foods for a special celebration, purchase them shortly before the event and remove them immediately after.
  • Have healthy foods and beverages (water, fruits, vegetables and other low-calorie snacks) readily available and in plain sight on the kitchen table or counter and in the front on the refrigerator shelves.
  • Make sure high-calorie foods are less visible — wrapped in foil rather than clear wrap, and placed in the back of the fridge or pantry.
  • At meals, decrease the size of the main dish, serving dishes, serving spoons, plates, bowls and glasses for high-calorie foods and increase them for lower-calorie foods.
  • Discourage eating directly from the package and repackage high-calorie snacks in smaller containers.
  • Encourage children to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

The AAP also recommends reducing sedentary behaviors by cutting back on the number of TV sets in the home and removing TVs and other media from bedrooms and the kitchen. Families should work together to meet the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and parents can partner with children to maintain a daily diary of food, physical activity and/or sedentary activities.

"Even when families have knowledge of healthy behaviors, they may need help from pediatricians to motivate them to implement behavior changes," said Dr. Stephen Daniels, chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition. "Parents and other family members are strongly encouraged to adopt the same fitness and lifestyle changes as the child. Pediatricians can educate families, provide support and help them stay on track."

By Betsy Stein