Walk the Talk
If you want your child to live in a healthier way, you need to set a good example. Mention how much fun it is to play in your tennis league, or let him know how satisfied (not stuffed!) you feel when you eat an apple instead of a fattening dessert. "Role-modeling a healthy lifestyle is no different from role-modeling kindness or honesty," says Don W. Morgan, PhD, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health in Youth at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro. "Once kids see that daily physical activity is important to you, they'll want to be more physically active too."
That's what happened with the Hernandez family of Irvine, California. When her 7-year-old son, Willy, gained 20 pounds in one year -- and went from wearing slim- to husky-size clothing -- his mother, Martha Hernandez (who has struggled with weight most of her life) took a hard look at her family's eating habits and attitudes. "We piled too much food, a lot of it fried, onto our plates and encouraged our son to finish it all," she says. Willy also snacked incessantly on store-bought cookies and other processed treats.
Martha began broiling or baking foods, monitoring everyone's portion size, and packing Willy a healthy school lunch (fresh fruit and a sandwich made on whole wheat bread). She stopped buying soda, chips, and sweets, switching his snack choices to fruit yogurt or hummus and whole-grain crackers.
But Martha knew her son needed more exercise too. So she convinced him to sign up for a year-round swim team, and she joined a gym and started running herself. "I thought it was only fair that I practice what I preach," she says. Today Willy, now 12, is at a healthy weight and swims competitively.