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Fitness runs in the Family: How to Raise a Healthy Kid!

By Jeanette LeBlanc, Ph.D.

Are your kids fit and healthy? Medical experts warn that 1 in 4 American children is overweight due to inactivity and poor dietary habits. Only 30 percent of childhood obesity is linked to purely genetic factors. Children who stay overweight through their teen years are likely to end up as overweight adults with a corresponding greater risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Randy Maul, M.D. and karate instructor advises, "People need to take responsibility for their health habits and that of their children, rather than just dealing with the symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle later."

A steady junk food diet
Parents often lecture their children about eating healthy, but fill the kitchen cupboards with high-fat, sugary, salty, processed foods that offer no real nutritional value. Even the nutritional content of local school cafeteria food is highly questionable. Driving through the Golden Arches is certainly easier than it is to make a healthy, balanced dinner. But at what price? Certainly, an occasional treat or holiday overindulgence is fine, but as a daily habit, this kind of diet decreases immunity and reduces academic performance. In our hectic society, it takes a committed effort to feed your family a healthy, balanced diet.

Couch potato kids
Children and teens are bombarded by messages from peers and television that contribute to a sedentary "couch potato" mentality and lifestyle. Witness the steady stream of television messages: Steaming-hot pepperoni pizzas bubble over with melted cheese…your favorite sports superstar promises fun times from drinking a frosty cold, fizzy soda…seconds later, rail-thin supermodels sashay across the television screen. Is it any wonder that our young people are confused about health and fitness? In moderation, TV and video games can be a fun form of easy entertainment, but in excess, it can turn your child into a "couch potato kid!"

Make a move to healthy eating habits
Teaching nutritious eating habits will encourage a healthy attitude about food. Use these tips:

  1. Start early to help your child cultivate a taste for nutritious foods.
  2. Let your children help plan, purchase and prepare meals. Teach healthy food selection and portion size. Kids are more open to try something they helped prepare.
  3. Educate yourself. Take a "healthy cooking" class or purchase a cookbook, learn to read labels and learn how to select healthier "fast food" options.
  4. Eat dinner as a family. Make a pleasant sit-down dinner a priority, at least a few nights a week. Encourage open, caring communication. Save any "lectures" for later, otherwise children try to leave the table sooner and associate eating with high-stress.
  5. Don't use food to punish or reward your child. Withholding food can create fear in a child, leading to overeating later. If sweets are used as a reward, then children assume these foods are more valuable than other foods. Or that food equals love, which is a precursor to food addiction in some people.

Be a supportive role model
In order for fitness to become a family value, we as parents, have to set the example. You don't have to be Mr. or Mrs. Fitness in order to do so but should make a concerted effort.

Be supportive of your children and teens, regardless of their fitness level. Shaming an overweight family member, especially children, is counterproductive and could be psychologically damaging. Listen to your kid's preferences and wishes and be sensitive to their degree of comfort and their ability level. Whether they participate in individual or group sports or totally do "their own thing" be sure to encourage their interests and unique personality.

Judy Maddox has been a supportive role model for her children and her students. She runs a Universal Kempo Karate school that caters to families. "My three sons literally grew up in karate. I took them for lessons and ended up joining myself. Training with my boys kept us close through their teen years-the years that most parents get "shut out" of their kid's worlds." The entire family continues to share a love for karate and all are Black Belts. Karate is one of many martial arts that can be enjoyed as a family sport. Kids love the mystique of the sport and parents appreciate the emphasis on discipline, respect and fitness.

The family that plays together…stays together

The Adcox Family
Gary, a human relations consultant and his wife, Liz, an accountant, like to plan family activities around fitness. "My two sons are athletic, but like other teens, sometimes they would rather play Nintendo or watch TV. So, we both reserve the right to give them a little "jump-start" with some mandatory family fun. For example, 'We will go on a family hike this weekend.'" Brenton, age 15, admits, "Yeah, they do make us go but we always have a good time once we get out there." Thirteen-year old Jason reveals "My favorite things are skateboarding, hiking, and doing the latest dance moves. It's not so bad to do the family thing too!"

Family Fitness Activities: hiking, football, climbing, weight training
Fitness Tip: Plan Family Activities around Fitness!

The Burgess Family
"Food and fitness go together. You can't be fit with a junk food diet," says busy mom and fitness enthusiast Vicki Burgess. "I really do stress it at my house. I put steamed vegetables and salads on their plates. They may groan a little, but they do eat it. And yes, we do have some goodies around the house. I usually do my own baking so that I can control the sugar content, which is good since Jim is an orthodontist."

Eight-year old daughter, Jana, already exudes self-expression and self-confidence. "I like fun exercise. I make up dances to show my mom and Dad. I really love my new purple, 18-speed bike!" Seventeen-year old Casey, unlike many teens, truly enjoys time with his family. "We are really close. My little sister just got her first bike, so we are enjoying cycling together as a family. We get to teach her on the trails and get to feel the freedom of the speed, wind, and ground."

Family Fitness Activities: bicycling, tennis, and hiking
Fitness Tip: Fix Fun but healthy food that your kids will eat!

These families demonstrate that fitness truly can "run" in the family. Regular physical activity in conjunction with healthy eating and leisure habits, can be your path to a lifetime of health and fun for you and your kids.

Also see:
Does Your Child Have a Cold or Are Allergies Setting In?
Are your kids sleep deprived?

Jeanette LeBlanc, is a National Certified Counselor and a freelance writer. She just completed the Body for Life and World Gym Fitness Challenges in order to be a better role model for her son, Alex.


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