Teach good habits when children are young

More than a third of adults in the United States are obese, which means their body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher. Being obese puts you at risk for a number of serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s the number one cause of preventable death.

"The obesity epidemic is a very real problem that typically starts when you’re a kid," explained Dr. Jila Kaberi-Otarod, Geisinger obesity and weight-management physician and associate director for Geisinger Northeast’s Nutrition and Weight Management program. "If you aren’t taught good habits about your diet, you might end up making lifestyle choices that lead to weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle and, eventually, becoming obese."

Here are 10 good habits that could help the kids in your life make better lifestyle choices and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.

1. Encourage healthy eating
Maintaining a healthy weight at any age is largely about what you eat. Teach your kids healthy eating habits at a young age and they’ll carry them for a lifetime. These habits include eating vegetables with every meal, choosing whole grain bread or pasta instead of white bread or regular pasta, eating lean meats and limiting desserts.

2. Don’t keep junk food in the house
One easy way to help everyone in the family maintain a healthy weight is to keep healthy snacks around. This means choosing grapes and yogurt instead of cookies or cereal bars loaded with sugar. It also means creating a shopping list full of healthy foods and sticking to the aisles full of fresh produce, dairy and meat, rather than those with processed foods and snacks.

3. Establish meal and snack routines
Children thrive on routine. Eating regular meals with established snack times can help you, as a parent, help your kids eat healthier snacks and suitable portions during mealtime.

"When you create routines, you can determine what is eaten during which part of the day," said Dr. Otarod. "Importantly, eating these meals together can also help you gain a better understanding of what your kids’ diets look like."

4. Limit sugary drinks
Keep soda, fruit juice and other sugar-laden drinks out of kids’ hands. These drinks not only provide empty calories; they’re also bad for your children’s teeth.

5. Teach kids to drink water
Instead, teach your kids to drink water most of the time. This will keep them hydrated and help them get used to drinking a calorie-free beverage.

6. Make physical activity mandatory
Children should get 60 minutes of exercise a day. Designate time after school for physical exercise, whether it’s riding a bike, playing sports or even dancing in your living room. Focus on helping your kids move more often.

7. Limit smartphone time
Just like adults, children are getting hooked on their smartphones and tablets. Create device-free time in their day so they can focus on physical activity. You can try using smartphone or screen time as a reward after completing homework and chores.

8. Don’t force kids to finish meals
Strike a balance between encouraging your kids to eat their vegetables and forcing them to finish meals. When you force more food on your child, you could be teaching them to overeat and become less sensitive to feeling full.

9. Don’t reward kids with high-calorie, high-fat desserts
Similarly, don’t offer cake for eating vegetables. It might not actually help your kids eat vegetables more frequently and enjoy them. Studies show that it may also help them develop a preference for sweets.

10. Lead by example
Of course, being a model of good behavior helps teach your kids to live a healthy lifestyle. This means eating your fair share of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and taking part in family exercise such as going on bike rides together.

"Your kids are more likely to adopt healthy habits if you follow them too," said Dr. Otarod. "If you’re instilling these good habits in your children but are still concerned about their weight or their overall health, talk to your pediatrician."

Dr. Jila Kaberi-Otarod, MD, CNSC, is an obesity and weight-management physician and also serves as associate director for Geisinger Northeast’s Nutrition and Weight Management program. Dr. Otarod sees patients at Geisinger’s specialty clinic, 675 Baltimore Drive, Wilkes-Barre, and Geisinger Mt. Pleasant, 531 Mt. Pleasant Dr., Scranton. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Otarod or another Geisinger weight-management specialist, please call 570-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

mom with daughter holding fruit