23 Million U.S. Children and Teens are Overweight or Obese: What Can We Do about It?

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. The YMCA is partnering with Texas Children’s Pediatrics to bring you information you can use to help your family make healthier choices. This post is the first in a four-part series providing families practical advice on nutrition and exercise.

Picture of a little girl eating an appleWe all know that childhood obesity is a real issue that many families face. A majority of the discussion has placed an emphasis on encouraging physical activity for children as a way to keep them healthy. While this is important, an equally important facet is helping children maintain a balanced nutritional diet. This task isn’t always easy for busy families, but there are simple tips that everyone can use to make healthy eating fun for the entire family. Below are the answers to some of the most common questions we’ve received about childhood nutrition.

What is the best way for me to help my family control their portion sizes?

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture replaced the food pyramid with the “MyPlate” concept which gives a more visual demonstration of how much of each food group we should have during our main meals. Though the basics still apply, this new concept more visually reminds everyone of the importance of controlling serving sizes and portion control. For instance, some bags of chips or containers of frozen yogurt are multiple serving sizes even though we may think it’s just one. By utilizing “MyPlate” you can also help assure that you are getting a variety of foods from a variety of food groups. For more information about “MyPlate” visit choosemyplate.gov.

Mother's Hand Feeding Food to a Young Girl Who Is Making a FaceMy child automatically assumes that “healthy” food tastes bad. What do I do?

Children thrive in an environment where they have some control. If we truly want our children to be successful, we need to allow them the opportunity to become active members in their nutrition. Some ways you can easily do this include allowing children to create the grocery list (with your helpful suggestions of course), asking your child to help plan a meal a week and play a part of the meal preparation, let your children select a color for each day and use that as inspiration for a new fruit or vegetable the family tries.

How can I limit my child’s sugar and caloric intake?

Many parents are surprised to learn how much sugar is in juice. While you can replace one serving of whole fruit with 6 to 8 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice, we recommend limiting your child to one serving of juice per day as a single serving can have 20 grams of sugar or more. Juice also digests very quickly, lacking any sort of satiety, and possibly contributing to excess calories at the end of the day. The best alternative is to eat the fruit as opposed to drinking the juice. Not only will it help limit the amount of calories and added sugar your child takes in, but eating fruit provides fiber as well to help keep your child full and energized until his or her next meal.

Texas Children's Pediatrics logoClick here for more information from Texas Children’s Pediatrics. Learn more about YMCA exercise programs for families and children here.

Thanks to Texas Children’s dietitian Dawn Bunting for this article. Next week she’ll discuss how to deal with picky eaters.

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