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Issue Date: December 2008

Stay Fit as a Family

Dr. Lolita McDavid | University Hospitals
If you have an overweight child, you may not like what Dr. Lolita McDavid, University Hospitals’ medical director of child advocacy and protection and an associate professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University, has to say about the childhood obesity epidemic: She blames the parents.

“If I walk into a room with a hundred obese children, 99 of them are going to have obese parents,” says McDavid. “So the No. 1 way not to have an overweight child is to not be overweight yourself.”

Here are her suggestions for helping the whole family stay slim:
Get the family on a schedule:
“Kids need to go to bed at the same time, they need to get up at the same time, and they need to know that they’re going to eat three meals a day at certain times,” McDavid stresses. She frowns on eating on the run or in the car — in fact, she’s adamant about families sitting down to eat together. “It allows you to reconnect,” she says.

Learn what and how to cook:
“We have a whole generation of young women who don’t know how to cook — if you gave them fresh produce, they wouldn’t know what to do with it,” McDavid says. “I have a 28-year-old daughter who’s one of those people!” Quick and easy recipes for fare that’s far more healthful and lower in calories than the fast-food sandwiches, fried chicken, pizza, prepared and frozen entrees that so many families eat are plentiful.
Replace junk-food snacks with fresh fruit and vegetables:
McDavid rejects the common parental complaint that their offspring won’t eat anything from the produce department.

“Projects have shown that if you offer children fresh fruits and vegetables, they do like them,” she insists. Introduce your little ones to a wide array of fruits and vegetables as soon as they’re ready for table foods (she recommends starting with orange and yellow veggies such as carrots, pumpkin and squash) so these low-calorie, nutrient- and fiber-rich staples become part of their diets at an early age.

Watch portion sizes:
An age-appropriate portion is roughly the size of the fist of the person you’re feeding. If your children are still hungry after cleaning their plates, let them fill up on fruits and vegetables.
Limit time in front of the TV and on the computer:
McDavid says time allotments on the computer should vary with the child’s age and amount of homework. To better enforce limits, she urges parents to move TVs and computers out of bedrooms and into common areas of the home.

Participate in physical activities with the kids:
“You have to get up and go with them — you can’t plop yourself in front of the TV and then say, ‘Go outside and play!’ ” McDavid says.

Walk your children to the nearest park or playground, toss the ball around with them in the backyard or take them bowling or roller skating.

Buy an elaborate swing set or a couple of bikes instead of a new computer or video game console. Support their interest in organized sports, or organize an activity of your own that promotes physical activity. McDavid cites “walking school buses” — groups of children who are chaperoned by parents and volunteers that “pick up” kids at designated points on walking routes to and from school — as an example.

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