Help Your Child Develop Habits for Healthy Growth

By Joanne Karimbakas, MS, RD
The Weight of the Nation for Kids

The Weight of the Nation for Kids

The Weight of the Nation for Kids films show how youth can make healthy changes in their communities. These three 30-minute films show how youth are bringing about big changes in their world—whether they’re pushing for local, fresh produce, as in Kebreeya’s Salad Days, trading in video-game sports for real- life sports in Quiz Ed!, or working with school boards to give healthier lunch options in The Great Cafeteria Takeover. Free access to the films is available at

Nearly one-third of American youth are overweight or obese, putting them on a path to serious health problems that were once only seen in adults, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and kidney disease. In addition, youth that are overweight or obese may also develop joint pain or breathing problems that could make it tough to keep up and play with other kids. If you are worried about your child's weight, talk to your health care provider.

Taking action to improve the health habits of your family is an importance strategy for helping your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight for his or her age. As a parent or caregiver, you play a big part in shaping your children's health habits. Help them by providing healthy foods, encouraging daily physical activity and enough sleep, and limiting your kids’ play time in front of the computer, tablets, smartphones and TV to two hours per day.

To help our children achieve healthy growth and live healthier lives, we need to work together as families and communities. For ideas on how to get your community involved and take action, check out the Weight of the Nation for Kids films.

Start the conversation to get your family on the road to better health.

You are your children’s most important role model when it comes to forming healthy habits. If you make healthy food choices, provide ways to be more active and limit computer and television screen time, your kids will, too. Creating habits around healthy eating and physical activity can make it easier for the whole family to get to and stay at a healthy weight.

Make Your Home a Healthy Eating Zone:

  • Eat together! Children who eat meals with their family are more likely to eat fruits, veggies and other healthy foods.

  • Give your kids a healthy breakfast every day. Try oatmeal or whole-grain, low-sugar cereal, fruit and low-fat or nonfat milk. Toss sliced apples, berries, bananas orwhole-grain cereal on top of fat-free or low-fat yogurt.

  • Encourage kids to drink water when they are thirsty.Limit sugar-sweetened beverages, sports drinks and juice.

  • Watch portion sizes, especially in fast-food and other restaurants.Often the portions served are enough for two or three people. Young children’s portion sizes should be smaller than those for adults.

  • Include your children in planning and making meals. Children may be more willing to eat the dishes they help prepare. Go to the grocery store together and help them to choose plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods that are lower in sugar and salt and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

Choose physical activities your whole family can enjoy.

Set a good example by going for a family walk or bike ride. Playing ball or jumping rope with your children shows them that being active is fun. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. You can break the time into smaller parts during the day, such as walking the dog, jumping rope or playing ball for 20 minutes, three times a day. If your children see you being physically active and having fun, they are more likely to be active on their own.

Aim for enough sleep.

Children need about nine to 11 hours of sleep every night. Getting enough sleep is important for their growth and has been linked to better performance in school.

  • The body doesn’t work well with too little sleep. Research also suggests that a lack of sleep may be linked to too much weight gain.
  • Taking the TV out of kids’ bedrooms also may help improve their sleep
  • Set regular bedtime routines for your child

To learn more about helping children and families develop healthy habits, check out the many free resources of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at . For example, the NIDDK’s Weight-Control Information Network provides healthy eating and physical activity suggestions in the booklet, Helping Your Child: Tips for Parents ( and additional tips for parents in the booklet Helping Your Overweight Child (

Tips to help children stay healthy

  • Encourage children to bephysically active.
  • Serve child-sized portions of healthy foods.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Limit your kids’ play time in front of the computer, tablets, smartphones and TV to two hours per day.
  • Set a regular bedtime routine. Children should get nine to 11 hours of sleep every night.

Ms. Karimbakas is Director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases NIDDK) Obesity Research Translation Initiatives. She develops and implements national communication initiatives that focus on obesity prevention.