“The family that hikes together stays together.” These are words of advice I received from a mentor when I was starting my practice and was wondering how to balance work and family.
After almost 20 years of marriage, family, and pediatric practice, I have often reminded myself of the importance of this simple advice and what it has meant for my own family’s health. As a pediatrician, I work with many parents and their children who are overweight, generally due to spending too much time in front of television and computer screens. Hundreds of times I have passed along my version of my mentor’s good advice: “The family that hikes together—and eats together—stays together.”
One of the most concerning trends in children’s health is the sharp increase in childhood obesity. Poor eating habits and lack of physical activity are the main factors that lead to excessive weight gain. Intermountain Healthcare has developed 8 Healthy Habits as part of the LiVe Well
The “prescription” to LiVe Well emphasizes these eight important practices for families to incorporate into their lifestyles that can help children reach a healthier weight and participate in more daily activity:
- The family meal is the most important element in helping children develop into healthy eaters for a lifetime. Parents must make the family table a place where children are happy to come and enjoy the family meal together. Children learn better manners, eat healthier food, and establish patterns that decrease the risk of obesity throughout their lives. It is just as important that adolescents join the family at dinnertime. It helps them connect to parents, improves school performance, and decreases the risk of drug and alcohol abuse.
- Children need to have time in their morning schedules for a healthy breakfast. Numerous studies over the past 20 years have shown that eating breakfast leads to improved memory and concentration, increased creativity and test scores, and a more positive outlook.
- Milk should be served with the family meal as it provides calcium, vitamin D, and protein, not available in other drinks. Sugar-sweetened beverages and sports drinks should be avoided as they only supply empty calories.
- The new USDA’s MyPlate (choosemyplate.gov) encourages covering at least half of the plate with vegetables and fruits while reserving smaller portions of the plate for meat and starches like potatoes, rice, pasta, and breads. If children want seconds, they can always be offered more vegetables.
- Families should plan and establish outdoor family activities almost every day, and at least once during the weekend. A community center or fitness club can be the place to learn new skills like swimming or weightlifting. Children should walk to and from school as much as possible. For safety and fun, they can be encouraged to walk with neighborhood friends. Parents can also help children dress for all weather conditions so they can walk in the rain and the snow as well as on sunny days.
- Adequate nightly sleep is just as important as daily activity. Sleep promotes better learning throughout the day and helps children be more active. More activity helps develop better sleep habits. Children should have 8–10 hours of sleep, and adolescents often need even more sleep during their rapid growth phase. I advise parents to avoid television, computers, or phones in the bedroom; i.e. no texting after bedtime.
- Parents need to be supportive, set a good example, and eat and play with their children. Everyone’s health will improve as children are helped to establish better habits. And the whole family will be happier, more cohesive, and more active in the planning, enjoyment, and cleanup of meals.
- Last, parents should be careful not to criticize about weight. It is important to watch what you say about yourself and about others, to be realistic about normal eating, and to focus on lifelong, healthy habits.
Intermountain has provided many tips that can help families develop better eating habits and increase recreational activity. Together, families can get online and explore IntermountainLiVeWell.org
to find healthy recipes and find new ideas to keep your family health.
Or, to make an appointment with a pediatrician we invite you to visit Hillcrest Pediatrics
or call 801-507-1850.