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How to help your children establish healthy habits

It’s important that children grow up having a positive relationship with food and exercise. Here’s how you can help them do that.

It’s important that children grow up having a positive relationship with food and exercise. Here’s how you can help them do that.

In the UK, more than 20% of children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school. By the time they leave primary school, this figure has risen to over a third1.

Aside from the dangers to their physical health, being overweight or obese can also impact a child's mental and social development.

Research shows that children who are a healthy weight tend to be happier, fitter and have better self-confidence, which helps them learn better and develop socially2. They are also more likely to grow into healthy adults with a reduced risk of a whole host of diseases including type 2 diabetes and many cancers.

It’s important to try and make sure children establish healthy habits early on to give them the best chance of a long and healthy life. This is true whether your child is a healthy weight already or is currently overweight.

What parents can do

There are five main ways that parents and families can help to encourage healthy habits in children, and these apply whether the child needs to lose weight or simply maintain their current healthy weight.

1. Encourage 60 minutes of activity per day

For children, activity needn’t be the chore it is seen as by so many adults. You can make sure your child has a good relationship with exercise by making it a fun and normal part of everyday life – walking the dog, going for family bike rides at the weekend or helping you wash the car.

Activities such as swimming, dancing or playing tennis are the ideal alternative to ‘screen time’ – i.e. watching TV or spending time online.3

2. Stick to child-sized portions

Many parents tend to feed their children with adult-sized portions because they don’t want them to be hungry, and there is actually very little official guidance on how much food kids really need. The good news is that children are better than adults at eating the amount they need – so start with small portions and let them ask for more if they want it.6

3. Choose the right foods

Although it can seem like there is a lot of confusing and contradictory dietary advice out there, the basic principles of a healthy diet don’t change. Try and make sure you and your family eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Reduce the amount of high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt food and drink you feed your child – items such as fizzy drinks, sweets and cakes should be an occasional treat.

Aim for your child to get most of their calories from vegetables, fruit and starchy wholegrain foods such as brown rice and pasta.3

4. Less screen time, more sleep

Generally speaking, screen time is inactive time – watching TV and playing video games shouldn’t take up all of your child’s time. Not only does an inactive lifestyle make it more likely that your child will be overweight, but staring at a screen for too long can stop them from sleeping well. Ban screens from their bedroom – including mobile phones.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important, as there is research that shows children who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight and have low moods and poor behaviour.3

5. Lead by example

Children learn by example, so one of the best things you can do for their health is to be active and eat well yourself. Your child is much more likely to accept any changes you make to their diet or behaviour if the whole family does it together.4

Embrace a healthy lifestyle as a family and both you and your children will really see the benefit.

Need more information?

If you feel like you need more support to keep your kids healthy, there are plenty of places to turn to. A health screening can give you a comprehensive picture of your or your child’s health and give you pointers on how you could improve it. You can also get expert advice on how to feed your family healthily through a dietary consultation.




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