With the rise in childhood obesity a real worry for parents, it can feel a bit overwhelming to know where to start making changes. We all know we should exercise more, eat more healthily, get plenty of sleep. But making those changes is sometimes hard to do alone. So join with us in making small changes instead. We have teamed up with Dan Sweeney, personal trainer, to create this list of 101 Easy Changes to Make to Help Prevent Childhood Obesity.
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Why not work your way through the list or pick a random item to try one day or during one week? It’s the small changes we make to our lifestyles that actually end up having an impact and helping prevent our children from becoming obese. These tiny changes can make a big difference!
1. Leave a little earlier for school drop, park the car 10 minutes further from school and walk the rest of the way into school.
2. Do a WOW walk on Wednesday or one day a week where you walk or cycle to school or work, or at least part of the way.
3. Add a family walk together to your weekend routine.
4. Have a family games evening once a week where you either play Wii fit or an outdoor game or set up an obstacle course in a room to climb and run around, or have a disco!
5. Make walking the dog a job for everyone not just mum or dad.
6. If it’s raining don’t let that stop you going for a walk, put on raincoats and wellies and have a rain walk. Enjoy 12 Kids Rainy Day Games Outdoors.
7. Add five minutes of movement to every hour.
8. Remove barriers to outdoor play – have outdoor clothes if rainy or cold, make sure there’s somewhere shady if warmer.
9. Listen to what your child is interested in and allow them to take part in their favourite sport.
10. Be a role model. Exercise and allow your child to see you do so.
11. Follow along with a workout video online and get your child to join in.
12. Research what after school activities that involve exercise or sport are available in your area and get your child to pick one active class to attend.
13. If you use a childminder, ask them to incorporate some games rather than allowing TV or screen time.
14. Explain the benefits of exercise (they will feel stronger, fitter, healthier) to your children.
15. Children often look up to a celebrity. Find out what form of exercise they do and encourage your child to try that.
16. Turn TV commercials into fitness breaks.
17. Kids love to have a friend over. Invite a friend over and organise some game ideas.
18. Kids Indoor Areas offer an excellent fun way to exercise. Spend an hour in one and allow them to run wild!
19. Block off some pool time in your family monthly calendar to go swimming together.
20. Exercise is in! Kids love all that is cool! With more and more people taking up exercise, maybe your child will respond to the concept of doing something cool.
You may wonder why sleep is included in an article about preventing childhood obesity, but a study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that lack of sleep increases the obesity risk in kids. Read more in our article Why Your Child Sleeping Less Might be Leading to Obesity.
21. Know how much sleep your child needs and make sure bedtime is early enough to allow them what they need.
22. Make sure no devices are in their room before bedtime.
23. Avoid screens for at least 1/2 an hour before sleep.
24. Establish a regular time for both going to bed and for waking up.
25. Interact with your child at bedtime. Don’t use TV or videos as a substitute for you being part of the bedtime routine. A simple thing to do is to read together. Bedtime stories are a very easy way to establish a bedtime routine and children look forward to them, particularly if it’s a chapter (or two) each night to find out what happens next in the story.
26. Try to avoid helping your child fall asleep.
27. Limit caffeinated drinks (sodas hot chocolate) later in the day
28. If bedtime is always a hassle then write out a timetable showing the exact time for tidying up, going upstairs, laying out school things, bathing, teeth brushing and reading a story, right up until ‘lights out’. Write the schedule on a large piece of paper and put it somewhere your child can see.
29. Don’t let your child fall asleep downstairs if possible, they need to learn how to lie in bed and fall asleep naturally.
30. If anxiety at bedtime is stopping them from relaxing and going to sleep, create a Worry Box that they can put their worries into.
31. Have a little active session before you start the bedtime routine to help tire kids out.
32. If clocks are changing, follow the time, stick to the same schedule and put them to bed when the clock says their normal bedtime. It’ll take a day or two to adjust.
33. Make bedtime dark. It’s better to sleep in a dark environment because light and hormones dictate our sleep patterns. When light dims in the evening, we produce a chemical called melatonin, which gives the body clock its cue telling us it’s time to sleep. Use blackout blinds to help block out light on summer evenings.
34. Avoid treats and sweets close to bedtime.
35. Have individualised bedtimes. Know how much sleep your child needs and set an appropriate bedtime.
36. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”, has a role to play when going to sleep When cortisol levels are high, your child’s body won’t be able to shut down and go to sleep. Keep activities calm before bedtime, dim the lights, and a quiet environment can help avoid excess amounts of cortisol in your child’s system.
37. If your child is having trouble relaxing try a visualisation book, they have short simple “stories” designed to help relax.
38. Melatonin helps to regulate the internal body temperature for sleep, and you can help regulate the external temperature for your child – don’t have the temperature too high, a little cooler is better to promote deep sleep.
39. Naps should be geared towards the age of your child but avoid long naps or too many naps during the day as this can impair night sleep.
40. Don’t dismiss bedtime fears, try to address them. If reassuring your child doesn’t work, a special toy to stand guard at night or spraying the room with “monster spray” before bed can help.
41. If your child is having trouble relaxing before going to sleep, teach them some simple breathing exercises or gentle yoga poses as these can help aid relaxation.
42. Swap juice / diluted juice for water one day a week to start with then increase it to two days and so on.
43. Check the sugar content on your child’s cereal and if higher than 5g of sugar per 100g, swap for a lower sugar cereal.
44. Instead of Nutella or chocolate spread try another nut butter, e.g. peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter. If your child is allergic to nuts, try sunflower seed spread.
45. Make Saturday treat day so you only give treats like sweets and crisps and soda on one day.
46. Add veggies to the lunchbox as well as fruit.
47. Prioritise a wholesome breakfast, porridge is one of the best ways to start the day as oats are super-healthy, but if you’re not a porridge fan here are some other healthy breakfast ideas.
48. Mix in brown rice or pasta with the usual kind for more fibre.
49. Make sure children ages 1 to 6 are limited to 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day.
50. Serve 100 percent juice with no added sweeteners in cups, and only at mealtimes.
51. Offer fruit at snack time.
52. Offer meals and snacks every 2 to 3 hours.
53. Allow kids to let you know when they are full (no need to force feed!)
54. Never skip breakfast.
55. When cooking, think about bulk cooking and freezing to eliminate those days where fast food is introduced due to a busy day.
56. Include a protein source in your child’s breakfast.
57. Learn how to make some healthy and delicious snack options.
58. Include your child in the cooking process, this will make them more likely to eat a healthy meal as well as gaining knowledge of cooking.
59. Aim to eat as a family at the dinner table a few nights per week if possible. This creates the environment for conversation which is positive on all levels.
60. Allow kids to get in involved with choosing and planning meals (as well as cooking them!).
Sweets and treats
61. Cut down on treat foods gradually. The more your child gets, the more they will want!
62. Let your child know what the treat limits are and explain why.
63. Say no when you are in the supermarket to buying treats. Explain this before you go in so you set an expectation. Let them choose a piece of fruit or a healthy snack instead.
64. Show them by being a role model, eat an apple in front of them so they see the healthier eating.
65. Change negative statements like “you can’t have chocolate” to positive statements like “have an apple”.
66. Explain to other family members or close friends that you’re sticking to one treat day only so they help support you.
67. Create your own healthier option of a treat.
68. Reduce or eliminate the amount of sweets on show in the house.
69. Incentivise your child with non-food rewards to make the changes e.g. cinema visit
70. Cut down sugar! Watch Dan’s video about overdosing on sugar!
71. Eat together at the table as often as possible.
72. Don’t overplay “clean your plate”.
73. Ensure that children are seated and undistracted during mealtime (e.g. no television during meals).
74. Get your child involved with mixing or chopping for dinner so they are part of the food making process.
75. Make sure meal portions are sensible.
76. Avoid using food as a reward or withholding food as punishment.
77. Do not reward completion of meals with sweet desserts.
78. Vegetables should make up half the dinner plate.
79. Colour should be a priority (carrots and broccoli, sweet potato and cabbage, corn and peas).
80. Children need to be encouraged to eat from all parts of the plate but not to finish their plate, unless hungry to do so.
81. Set agreed limits for daily screen time use.
82. Encourage other activity before screen time, e.g. you have to ride your bike for 1/2 an hour before you get some screen time.
83. Have rules like no technology on in the morning or leaving phones at the end of the table during mealtimes or switching off all screens after a certain time in the evening.
84. Have a technology free evening once a week.
85. Have a system where your kids can earn screen time by completing chores or by completing a physical activity, so e.g. 30 minutes of football or walk or cycle = 15 minutes of screen time.
86. Give your kids a set amount of screen time each day and let them decide how they want to use it so they can choose if they want to watch TV, play video games, or go on the Internet.
87. Create a zone or zones in the house where no technology is allowed, e.g. the dining room which is reserved for meals and family conversation.
88. On devices, show your child how to use the built-in Timer app and set it to e.g. 20 minutes and they know they need to stop then and do something else.
89. Make screen time part of the daily routine with set times for it, so e.g. after homework and chores are done.
90. Use our handy screen time sheet.
91. Don’t make comments about your child’s weight, focus instead on making these small changes.
92. Try to avoid making comments about your own weight, you may be doing this without even realising in front of them.
93. Talk to your children about the danger of fad diets and that it’s better to have a healthy balanced diet rather than fasting.
94. Make sure older children and teens know the dangers of fasting, using laxatives, and purging to lose weight.
95. Complement your child at least once a day (but not focusing on body).
96. Discuss with your child the topic of “body shape” and how everyone is different and beautiful in their own way.
97. Keep an eye on your child’s mood and ask the question “is everything ok”? Sometimes it takes a question to open the discussion.
98. Everybody has a bad day or a day where they feel everything is going wrong. Discuss this with your child and offer examples of where everything turns out just fine.
99. Watch for emotional eating and offer another solution to the stressor. A walk or listening to some of their favourite music can greatly reduce stress.
100. Always look at the glass half full! Having a positive outlook on a certain situation will teach your child to do the same.
101. Laugh and laugh from the heart! Add joy and laughter to every day you possibly can. We are here on this earth for a very short time and often don’t appreciate it enough. See beauty in the world around you and gift a stranger with a smile. The way you approach everyday is the way your child will do the same.
Dan Sweeney is a Personal Trainer and Nutritionist on a mission to improve the health of others and to make living a healthy life that bit easier. Dan aims to tackle the obesity epidemic which currently sweeps across much of the world. He is working with many schools and children in an effort to improve our children’s knowledge of nutrition. Dan’s vision has seen many others join in his mission of helping achieve our optimal health. Find Dan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Snapchat @dansweeneypt.
Over to you now. Do you have any suggestions for tiny easy changes to add to our list? Share them with us in the comments below!