Everyone wants kids to develop habits that lead to healthy lifestyles. Unfortunately, statistics show the current trend is toward less healthy children. According to the American Academy for Pediatrics, almost one third of school-age children and adolescents in this country are overweight or obese. The risks of unhealthy weight and lack of physical activity are well known, including a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint problems and even social or psychological problems. The challenge for today’s parents and educators is to identify the best methods to encourage positive practices during childhood to reverse this societal trend.
What habits should we encourage?
With weight issues being the most evident problem, diet is an important place to start. MyPlate recommendations include filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains and low-fat dairy as much as possible and including lean proteins with every meal. Exercise is equally important to good health. Guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services state that school-age children need at least an hour a day of physical activity. Benefits to children from aerobic and strengthening activities include weight control, fitness, endurance, improved cognitive function and even reduced incidence of depression (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
Beyond diet and exercise, research shows that time spent outdoors in natural settings improves cognitive function, lowers blood pressure, reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases Vitamin D production (Florida Department of Health, 2018). Finally, there is the ever present issue of screen time. There are certainly benefits associated with media use – such as ready access to information and the opportunity for positive social contact. However, research also tells us that high media use (more than 2 hours per day) by children is often associated with weight issues, sleep disturbances and unhealthy behaviors in teens. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting media screen time to less than two hours per day for school age children.
4-H Promotes Healthy Lifestyles for Kids
Florida 4-H promotes Healthy Living as one of the it’s priorities for Extension youth programming. Orange County 4-H offers many opportunities for kids to learn healthy lifestyle habits through both residential and day camps, educational events, after-school programs, and traditional club projects. The goal is for youth to gain the knowledge they need to make positive choices and embrace those healthy habits into adulthood. For more information about 4-H Healthy Living programs for Orange County kids ages 5-18, visit us at https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/orange/4-H-Youth-Development/ or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.