Eat your vegetables, don’t drink too much soda, get some exercise.  We all know what we should be doing, but few of us actually stick to what we know.  In fact, it is rare that you will find a family that sticks to a healthy diet, limits the amount of time in front of the computer or TV and encourages regular exercise.  Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic in the Unites States.

According to data from CDC and NHANES surveys from 1976-1980 and 2003-2006, obesity rates in children from 2-5 years old has risen from 5.0 percent to 12.4 percent, 6-11 years old from 6.5 percent-17 percent and in children from 12-19 years old from 5 percent-17.6 percent!  This drastic raise in obesity rates is increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol) and Type 2 (Adult onset) Diabetes in children.

Several factors are contributing to the increase in these obesity rates.  First of all, there is a drastic imbalance between the amount of calories consumed and calories burned on a daily basis.  High caloric foods such as fast foods and those which are processed have little nutritional value and are unable to be broken down easily by the body.  Foods and drinks with high sugar content are easily converted to fat.  Also, most children lead a sedentary lifestyle.  One study found that children between the ages of 8-18 years old spend a little over 3 hours per day watching T.V., DVD’s, playing video games or spending time on the computer.

Environmental and behavioral factors are also contributing to the obesity rates in children.  Young children are easily influenced at home, in school and their community.  It is essential that as parents, you give your children the proper guidance and healthy eating habits.  Family meals are a comforting ritual for both parents and kids.  Children like the predictability of a family meal and parents like the time spent with their children.  This is also a great way to introduce health eating habits.  Children who are raised in families that have regular meals together have been shown to be more likely to eat more fruits, vegetables and grains, are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and are even less likely to use alcohol and smoke.

Whether you have a toddler or a teen, here are five of the best strategies to improve nutrition and encourage healthy eating habits:

1) Have regular family meals.
2) Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks
3) Be a role model by eating healthy yourself.
4) Avoid battles over food.
5) Involve the kids in the process

By making some simple changes in your family eating habits, you are greatly reducing the risk of poor health for your children, now and in the future.

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