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Essay On Tips For Healthy Habits Pediatrics

Childhood obesity is an epidemic.   According to the CDC, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years.  Children are now dealing with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems, fatty liver disease, gallstones, and heartburn--diseases that were once found mostly in adults.

Children who are overweight also face tremendous social and psychological problems, including  discrimination and low self-esteem, according to studies.  

And, in 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine announced that for the first time children are not expected to outlive their parents. 

One major obstacle in combating childhood obesity is denial.  Studies have provided the proof that when it comes to their children, parents are, in many cases, unable to see that there is a problem.  Parents are looking at their children with the belief that they are healthy, but sadly many are wrong. 

Despite the overwhelming evidence and our desire to help our children be healthy and happy, teaching our children healthy habits is not an easy task.   Parents are competing with peer pressure, mass media, and a decreasing emphasis on physical activity in schools. 

So, is there anything that you can do for your child?

Yes, of course. Today I'm going to share with you my top 10 tips, as a doctor and  a mother of five!

First start by calculating your child’s BMI and seeking the guidance of your child’s pediatrician.  Here are some tips intended for children ages 3 and up.  These are not meant as specific advice. Please consult your pediatrician for recommendations for your child. 

Tips for teaching your kids healthy habits:
  1. Lead by example.  You are your child’s best teacher.  If you are eating chips and drinking soda while sitting on the couch watching TV then they will learn to do the same.  If you tell your children that you hate vegetables, then there is a good chance they will as well.  It is important for you to show your children that living a healthy lifestyle is positive and not a chore. Show your children that you want and like to eat healthy and that you enjoy exercising on a regular basis.  Teach them consistency through your actions.  You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t want the best for your child. Parents, we are in the spotlight! Our children are watching!
  1. Sleep.  Obese children get less sleep than normal-weight children, according to the research.  These children are spending this time watching TV, eating junk food, and playing on the computer.  These children may also be eating to stimulate themselves to stay awake.  You are the boss. Set a bed time and stick to it.  (More sleep also could make them smarter.)
  2. Limit liquid calories.  Calories in the form of liquids are huge contributors to childhood obesity.  We know that sugary carbonated drinks are not recommended for children.  This is non-negotiable.  Sugary sodas are high in calories and provide no nutritional benefit (and cause cavities!) (Drinking one 20-ounce soda daily can lead adults to gain a half pound a week!)  These liquid calories add excess calories without providing a feeling of satiety, meaning that they don’t feel full and can keep eating even though they have consumed calories that will wind up as stored fat on their developing bodies.  Seemingly innocent fruit juice is not so innocent.  It is concentrated calories stripped its fiber.  There are just too many calories in a small unsatisfying amount of liquid.  If you must offer beverages other than milk and water, consider other options: fruit-juice based sodas, low-calorie juices, or a 50-50 mix of water and juice.
  3. Fiber.  Thanks to SparkPeople, you likely have learned about the benefits of fiber for adults.  Fiber has the same benefits in children. It can help your child maintain a healthy weight by providing a feeling of fullness and satiety. Start with whole fruits.  (Avoid those juices!) Seek cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber.  Below are the fiber recommendations for children from the American Heart Association.
Gender/AgeFiber (grams)
1–3 years   19
4–8 years   25
9–13 years   
Female:   26
Male:   31
14–18 years    
Female:   29
Male:    38
  1. Eat only at the table! Children can learn to mindlessly eat just like adults--and remember they are watching us! Children can eat a bag of chips while playing on the computer or watching TV and a couple of hours later eat a full dinner.  These calories that are consumed without thought are easily forgotten and can add up quickly.  Make eating anywhere but the dinner table off limits.  Eating while running around, playing video games, watching TV or hanging out at the computer is not acceptable. 
  2. Limit TV, video games, and computer time (with the exception of active games on the Wii or Xbox Kinect).  I know that this is a hard one for us parents.  I’m a mother of 5 and I know that screen media can be great baby-sitters, but your kids need to burn calories.  Let them run and jump and play like we used to do.  Play active Wii games.  There are even exercise videos for children! Turn on music and encourage them to dance.  Do whatever it takes to get them to sweat! They need to move! You may need to wean your kids off these habits.  You may get some resistance at first but they will get the hang of it.  If you are consistent you will get results. 
  3. Educate your children.  I know this may be controversial, but your children need to know if they are at a healthy weight.  Quiz your children on healthy versus junk food.  Instead of just saying "No!" in the grocery store when they ask for sugary cereal, explain to them how to look for a healthy cereal and why they should pick a healthy cereal.   Older children have the ability to understand the concept of calories in and calories out.  They can be taught how to read food labels.  Give your child some credit.  They do have to ability to learn how to take care of their bodies through good nutrition.  Your child’s pediatrician should be able to assist you with the appropriate portion sizes and possibly even calories for your children.  If you are not getting the answers you seek, then request a referral to a dietitian. I highly recommend SparkTeens as a resource, available to teens age 13 and up. 
  4. Limit unhealthy options.  You possess the power to influence your child’s intake.  If there is no access to chips, cookies, ice cream, and sugary junky cereals then they will have no other options in the home.  Your children may put up a fight (one of my sons did) but they will get over it.  If you are having some problems with sticking to the "no junk food rule" as a parent you may need to look at other areas to see if there are discipline issues that need to be addressed.   
  5. Sports.  Individual or team sports.  Organized leagues or pick-up games. It doesn’t matter.  Find an activity (or activities) that your child can do that they like and can see themselves doing for years to come.  Encourage your child to enjoy exercise at a young age.  Remind them that they will need to consistently exercise as adults, so find a sport (or sports) that they can do and enjoy forever.   The whole point is to encourage your child to learn to enjoy exercise at a young age.  Teach them and remind them that they will need to continue to consistently exercise as adults. And don't forget to show them, too! 
  6. Eat together as a family.  Do this, because it has research to back it up.  These kids probably eat more fruits and vegetables as a result of family meals and thus are less likely to snack on junk food. They are also able to model positive parent behavior as well leading to less picky behaviors and a willingness to try new foods.  Communicating as a family also reduces stress and may identify problems that the child may be having so that the parents can guide them to a resolution.  
I hope you enjoyed some of my tips for teaching your children healthy habits.  We live in the world of fast food, instant gratification, excessive stress, office jobs and sedentary leisure activities.  Start now if you want to take advantage of the days when you have a great deal of control and influence over your kids. 

There is no need to try to trick them into new habits.  Tell your children exactly why you have implemented the changes.  They can and will understand and will certainly thank you for it in the future! We are our children best teachers, so let’s teach!
What are your best tips for getting kids excited about living healthy lives? Do you have any questions for Dr. Birdie?
Editor's Note: Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D., is happy to offer her expertise to the SparkPeople community; however, she cannot offer specific medical advice to dailySpark readers. Please do not share confidential medical information here. If you have a personal question or a concern about your health, please contact your health-care provider.


en españolHábitos saludables para la televisión, los videojuegos e Internet

TV, interactive video games, and the Internet can be excellent sources of education and entertainment for kids. But too much screen time can have unhealthy side effects.

That's why it's wise to monitor and limit the time your kids spend playing video games, watching TV, and using the Internet.

What's Recommended?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued these guidelines for screen time:

  • Babies and toddlers up to 18 months old: No screen time, with the exception of video-chatting with family and friends.
  • Toddlers 18 months to 24 months: Some screen time with a parent or caregiver. 
  • Preschoolers: No more than 1 hour a day of educational programming, together with a parent or other caregiver who can help them understand what they're seeing.
  • Kids and teens 5 to 18 years: Parents should place consistent limits on screen time, which includes TV, social media, and video games. Media should not take the place of getting enough sleep and being physically active.

Kids should have a wide variety of free-time activities, like spending time with friends and playing sports, which can help develop a healthy body and mind.

Screen Time

Here are some practical ways to make kids' screen time more productive:

  • Stock any rooms that have a TV, computer, or other devices with plenty of other non-screen entertainment (books, kids' magazines, toys, puzzles, board games, etc.) to encourage kids to do something non-screen related.
  • Keep TVs, iPads, and other screens out of kids' bedrooms.
  • Turn off all screens during meals.
  • Don't allow your child to watch TV while doing homework.
  • Treat screen time as a privilege that kids need to earn, not a right that they're entitled to. Tell them that screen time is allowed only after chores and homework are completed.
  • Try a weekday ban. Schoolwork, sports activities, and job responsibilities make it tough to find extra family time during the week. Record shows or save video games for weekends, and you'll have more family togetherness time to spend on meals, games, and physical activity during the week.
  • Set a good example. Limit your own screen time.
  • Check the TV listings and program reviews. Look for programs your family can watch together (like developmentally appropriate and nonviolent programs that reinforce your family's values). Choose shows that foster interest and learning in hobbies and education (reading, science, etc.).
  • Preview programs. Make sure you think they're appropriate before your kids watch them.
  • Use the ratings. Age-group rating tools have been developed for some TV programs and usually appear in newspaper TV listings and onscreen during the first 15 seconds of some TV programs.
  • Use screening tools. Many new standard TV sets have internal V-chips (V stands for violence) that let you block TV programs and movies you don't want your kids to see.
  • Come up with a family TV schedule. Make it something the entire family agrees on. Then post the schedule in a visible household area (like on the refrigerator) so that everyone knows which programs are OK to watch and when. And make sure to turn off the TV when the "scheduled" program is over instead of channel surfing for something else to watch.
  • Watch TV and play video games with your child, to see if the programming is OK for your child.
  • Find out about other TV policies. Talk to other parents, your doctor, and your child's teachers about their TV-watching policies and kid-friendly programs they'd recommend.
  • Offer fun alternatives to screen time. If you want your child to turn off the screen, suggest alternatives like playing a board game, starting a game of hide and seek, or playing outside.

Talking Is Important

Talk to kids about what they see on screens, and share your own beliefs and values. If something you don't approve of appears on the screen, turn off the screen and use the opportunity to talk with your child.

Here are some suggestions:

  • "Do you think it was OK when those men got in that fight? What else could they have done? What would you have done?"
  • "What do you think about how those people were acting at that party? Do you think what they were doing was wrong?"
  • If certain people or characters are mistreated or discriminated against, talk about why it's important to treat everyone fairly despite their differences.
  • You can use programs and games to explain confusing situations and express your feelings about difficult topics (sex, love, drugs, alcohol, smoking, work, behavior, family life). Teach your kids to question and learn from what they see on screens.

Video and Interactive Computer Games

  • Look at the ratings. Video games do have ratings to indicate when they have violence, strong language, mature sexual themes, and other content that may be inappropriate for kids. The ratings, established for the Entertainment Software Rating Board, range from EC (meaning Early Childhood), which indicates that the game is appropriate for kids ages 3 and older, to AO (for Adults Only), which indicates that violent or graphic sexual content makes it appropriate only for adults.
  • Preview the games. Even with the ratings, it's still important to preview the games — or even play them — before letting kids play. The game's rating may not match what you feel is appropriate for your child.
  • Help kids get perspective on the games. Monitor how the games are affecting your kids. If they seem more aggressive after spending time playing a certain game, discuss the game and help them understand how the violence that's portrayed is different from what occurs in the real world. That can help them identify less with the aggressive characters and reduce the negative effects that violent video games can have.

Internet Safety

  • Become computer literate. Learn how to block objectionable material.
  • Keep the computer in a common area. Keep it where you can watch and monitor your kids. Avoid putting a computer in a child's bedroom.
  • Share an email account with younger children. That way, you can monitor who is sending them messages.
  • Teach your child about Internet safety. Discuss rules for your kids to follow while they're using the Internet, such as never revealing personal information, including address, phone number, or school name or location.
  • Bookmark your child's favorite sites. Your child will have easy access and be less likely to make a typo that could lead to inappropriate content.
  • Spend time online together. Teach your kids appropriate online behavior.
  • Monitor kids use of chat rooms. Make your kids aware that posting messages to chat rooms reveals a child's email address to others.
  • Find out about online protection elsewhere. Find out about the online protection offered at school, after-school centers, friends' homes, or anyplace where kids could use a computer without your supervision.