Plenty! And it’s never too early to start. Childhood obesity is quickly becoming a national challenge. Almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese, and these numbers add up to some serious, life-threatening consequences.
At alarming rates, U.S. children are developing adult diseases. Type 2 diabetes has increased 800% among teens during the past decade. Nearly 70% of teens have early heart disease. Scientists predict that this may be the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
To turn the tide, we need to get back to basics – healthy food and exercise. Studies funded by the Pritikin Foundation found that in two weeks, overweight kids and teenagers in the Pritikin Family Program decreased LDL bad cholesterol 25%, shed 9 pounds, lowered triglyceride fats 39%, and reversed the metabolic syndrome.
Here are eight tips from the doctors, dietitians, exercise physiologists, and psychologists at Pritikin for helping teens launch thinner, healthier, and happier lives:
1. Steer your teenagers away from T.V. and video games and toward more physical activity.
A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that for each hour spent in front of the T.V. the risk of obesity increased by 30%.
If team sports don’t appeal to your teenager, help him or her find other physical activity that does – dance classes, karate, skateboarding, skiing, snowboard riding, bicycling. The point is: Get them up and get them moving with activity they find enjoyable.
2. As often as you can, get them home for dinner.
Teenagers who eat dinner with their parents are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables than those who usually dine without the company of mom and dad, concluded a recent study of more than 18,000 adolescents in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
States lead author Dr. Tami M.Videon of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “Parents should make a concerted effort to coordinate schedules and bring the family together for mealtimes. Family dinners are an opportunity to provide healthful choices as well as an example of healthful eating.”
3. Become proactive in school lunch programs
Increasingly, parents’ groups are complaining about a la carte menus featuring fast foods like pizzas and fries in school cafeterias, and new research indicates their complaints are justified.
Reporting in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from the University of Minnesota collected data on 16 middle schools; some offered standard school lunches only, which included fruits and vegetables; others offered standard lunches as well as a la carte programs from companies like Pizza Hut that sold the kids food like pizzas, French fries, and sweet snacks.
The researchers found that the adolescents who were allowed to choose food outside the standard school lunches ate more fat and fewer fruits and vegetables – throughout the day – than those not provided with a la carte plans.
Unfortunately, nine out of 10 U.S. schools now offer a la carte programs, and, unlike school cafeterias, these a la carte programs do not have to meet USDA nutritional recommendations that call for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and no more than 30% calories from fat.
4. Satisfy the afternoon munchies.
For many teens, hunger is at an all-time high right after school, around 4 p.m. They’ve got burgers on the mind. Head them off at the pass. If you’re picking your teens up, bring along healthy snacks in the car, like popcorn, cups of nonfat or low-fat yogurt, cut-up watermelon, peanut butter on celery sticks, and hot, steaming baked potatoes. If they’re driving themselves, stock the glove compartment with easy-to-grab edibles like apples, pears, peanuts, and dried fruit.
5. Make the most of homework time.
While they’re studying, serve your teens platters of fresh, sliced fruits and vegetables. They’ll fill up quickly, which means they’re far less likely to get up and go rummaging around for calorie-dense, unhealthy snacks like potato chips.
6. Don’t be too strict.
By and large, a weight-reducing diet for 16 year-olds shouldn’t be as limiting as a weight-reducing diet for 60-year-olds. Adolescents do have higher requirements for calories, protein, and nutrients such as calcium. Let them have some of their not-so-healthy foods, especially when they’re out with friends (they’re going to eat what they want anyway), but do try to make home a haven of good health, full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber-rich beans. Who knows? Your teens may even thank you for your efforts. You can bet they’re real interested in losing weight, too.