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National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

The media love buzz words, and one of the major ones being thrown for around the last several years is “obesity epidemic.” We’re in one, and unfortunately, it’s not just a grown-up problem. Our poor eating habits and lack of exercise are showing up on our kids too, often around their waists. I’m not a doom and gloom kind of guy, so I won’t go into all the negative statistics here. The bottom line is that healthy, active kids have a better chance of growing into healthy, active adults who are less at risk for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and all the other ailments associated with being overweight.

The good news is that nearly all children naturally want to be active. The bad news is that those desires are compromised by too much television, excessive computer time, and our own bad examples as parents. Not to sound cheesy, but children really are the future, so it’s worth it periodically to re-evaluate whether we are doing all we can to make sure they grow up healthy and happy.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to establish some new healthy habits for your family. Here are a few starter ideas, but I’m sure you can come up with a lot more:

Look in the mirror. Despite how it often seems, our kids will do what we do. Sometimes it can be pretty subtle too. If you lean back in your chair at mealtime, proclaim yourself “totally stuffed,” yet still reach for another slice of pizza, it sends the wrong message. Your reasons for skipping workouts (and your attitude toward exercise in general) will also be absorbed by your progeny. This month, find one area where you may not be setting the best example for your kids and work to change it.

Don’t buy the hype. The other day in a grocery store, I passed a display that read “Fuel for School!” over boxes of Rice Krispy Treats and Fruit-by-the-Foot snacks. The sad reality is the vast majority of advertising claims about food products are meant to confuse you. Just because the package says “healthy,” “all-natural,” “energizing”, “multi-grain,” or “fortified with vitamins and minerals” doesn’t necessarily mean the product is any better for you than a king-size candy bar. Because food labels can be so baffling, remember the “More = Less” Rule – the more processed a food is and the more ingredients it has (especially if you don’t know what they are), the less nutritional value it has. Because unfortunately, the only thing Rice Krispy Treats and Fruit-by-the-Foot will fuel is a sugar rush followed by a lethargic, cranky afternoon.

Provide active outlets. You can’t just tell someone to get more exercise; you have to show them how. This is true for adults as well as kids. Schools provide some of the activities kids need in their lives (such as recess, physical education classes, and after-school sports), but don’t count on your child’s school to give them all the exercise they need. Encourage your kids to try a variety of activities – everything from organized team sports to more individual pastimes like dance or skateboarding. Younger kids will have a wide interest level that will usually narrow as they get older, so don’t pressure them to be soccer, soccer, soccer, all the time, right now, or you risk ruining their enthusiasm for the game. Letting them choose the activities that excite them the most is one of the best ways to insure they remain active long term.

If you’re still not sure how to work more exercise into your family, why not start with a good ol’ fashioned walk? There are a variety of nearby greenbelt trails perfect for walking, jogging, biking, or skating (check out a map of Nampa trails here). For even more information on raising healthy kids, visit LetsMove.gov. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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