Fighting Childhood Obesity

Active Kids, Healthy Kids

Making smart food choices is only one part of the obesity-prevention picture. Getting kids into the habit of being physically active early is also important.

Encourage infant and toddler activity. According to a recent report from the National Association of Sport and Physical Activity, many infants and toddlers are confined too much in playpens, strollers, and infant seats. Allow lots of time for active play and plenty of room for baby to move around so he can practice rolling and crawling skills. Let toddlers walk instead of ride in strollers whenever possible.

Limit TV time. Kids younger than 2 are already averaging more than two hours of total screen time (including videos and computer games) daily. Restricting your child's TV watching can be an effective way to downsize weight problems. "Studies show that children who watch less than two hours of television per day are significantly less likely to be overweight than kids who sit in front of the tube for four hours or more," says Thompson.

Get them outside. Just about any outdoor activity -- playing tag, riding a tricycle, throwing a ball -- will help your youngster burn calories. Shoo kids into the yard or plan daily trips to the local park or playground. Thompson also suggests getting a pet: "I guarantee your child will want to help walk the dog or play outside with Rover."

Exercise as a family. It's no secret that kids enjoy anything more when their parents join them. Elaine Shimberg of Tampa, Florida, keeps Nerf balls in the car for impromptu park outings and says "follow the leader" has become a regular family game. "As I skip, hop, and twirl around, my kids imitate me," says the mom of 3-year-old Tyler and 4-year-old Shelby. "They think it's fun, but it's also exercise." Christine Wells of San Diego plans family vacations with fitness in mind. "I make sure our trips incorporate activities like hiking and walking along the beach," says Wells, mother to Ben, 5, Jack, 3, and Madison, 2.

Overall, the sooner you get your little one on the road to exercising and eating well, the better. "If you wait until your child is already obese, you'll have a real challenge on your hands," says Thompson. Taking obesity-prevention steps early means a healthier, happier child now and in the years to come.

Jan Sheehan is a writer in Denver, Colorado.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, September 2004.

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