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Help Your Child Grow Healthy and Strong

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Jan 31, 2012

Body Mass Index: A Useful Tool Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used to assess overweight and risk for overweight. Children's body fatness changes over the years as they grow, and boys and girls differ as they mature, so it is important to use a BMI measure specifically designed for children. Many schools have begun routine BMI measurement for students as one tool to help identify those at risk of obesity. If you are concerned about your child's weight, ask your pediatrician or school clinic about the BMI for children. For more information on BMI for children, see http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/childrens_BMI/about_childrens_BMI.htm

Healthy Lifestyles: A Family Affair!

Give your children building blocks for a healthy lifestyle by teaching them the importance of good nutrition and regular physical activity. Eating well and being physically active every day are keys to your child's health and well-being. Eating too many high calorie foods and getting too little physical activity can lead to excessive weight gain and physical health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, now being diagnosed in children. Obesity also is associated with an increased risk of other health problems such as depression. You play an important role in helping your child, and the entire family, learn about healthy eating and regular physical activity. Parents have the power to set examples. Make healthy eating and daily physical activity fun, to help children learn good habits to last a lifetime. This brochure provides some tips on how you can promote healthy eating habits and encourage active lifestyles in your family.

Healthy Choices Start With You!

  • Help your children develop healthy eating habits at an early age. Nutritious food is something to enjoy. It helps children grow strong and gives them energy.
  • Set an example for active living by moving with your kids. Your kids pay attention to you, they really do!
  • Teach your children that good health depends on the right balance between what they eat and how much they move.

It's never too late! Small steps make a big difference.

Keys to a Healthy Diet

The keys to healthy eating are variety, balance and moderation. Be sure your family eats a variety of foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grain products. Also include low-fat and nonfat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish and legumes (lentils and beans). Drink water to quench your thirst, and go easy on the salt, sugar and saturated fat.

Good nutrition should be part of an overall healthy lifestyle that also includes regular physical activity. To maintain weight, both kids and adults must balance the calories they eat with the calories they burn through physical activity. If you eat more calories than you use up in physical activity, you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you use up, you lose weight. Make a commitment to helping your family eat sensibly and move more often.

Here are some tips for healthy eating to help you get started.

  • Try to keep track of your children's meal/snack and physical activity patterns so you can help them balance the amount and types of food they eat with the amount of physical activity they perform.
  • Encourage your family to eat at least 5 servings of brightly colored vegetables and fruits a day. You can start the day with 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Slice fruit on top of cereal. Serve salad with lunch and an apple as an afternoon snack. Include vegetables with dinner.
  • Leave the candy, soft drinks, chips and cookies at the store. Substitute them with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat or nonfat milk products. Your child will soon learn to make smart food choices outside your home as well.
  • Serve children child-sized portions, and let your child ask for more if still hungry. Don't force children to clean their plates. Try measuring food items to learn to estimate the amount of food on a plate. See http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/ nutrit/pubs/justenuff/justenough.htm for more information.
  • Choose a variety of foods. No single food or food group supplies all the nutrients in the amounts that you need for good health. If you plan for pizza one night, balance your meal with salad, low-fat or nonfat milk and fruit.
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