How to Raise Thin Kids

Five rules to make a healthy home for your whole family
How to Raise Thin Kids
What were you like as a kid? Were you pudgy or skinny? If you're over 35, chances are you were somewhere in between. In the '60s and '70s, only two kids in a class of 25 were overweight.

Now compare your childhood weight to your children's. Or, better yet, visit their schools. At least six kids in a class of 25 will be overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the rest aren't far behind.

Most children are on the fast track to diabetes and high blood pressure. In fact, doctors believe that kids under 10 may be the first American generation to live shorter lives than their parents.

If your children are "pleasantly plump," here's a final caution that should spur you to action: They get that way by watching you.

"Being a good role model is the most critical of parental roles," says Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers International, author of Family Power: Five Simple Rules for a Healthy Weight Home. The science is clear: In habits that lead to obesity, children mirror their parents. Active parents usually have active kids.

Bottom line: "It's the parents' responsibility to provide a home environment that supports a healthy weight, and fathers can have a particularly big impact", says Miller-Kovach.

5 Rules for a Healthy Home
Common-sense steps—limiting video games, buying a bike—often fail because they're half-measures. Add the following strategies to your game plan and stick with them. It won't be easy, but the stakes are high and time is ticking away.

1. Have nutritious foods available.

2. Allow treats in moderation to avoid temptation and over-compensation away from home.

3. Limit non-homework "screen time" with the TV, computers and video games to two hours or less per day.

4. Be active for an hour or more a day.

5. The whole family is in this together. "Everybody in the house has to follow the rules," she explains. "The skinny kid doesn't get to eat ice cream while the other doesn't."

In addition to these rules, here are some additional strategies to follow:

Be lenient and complimentary
A June 2006 study conducted by Boston University's School of Medicine found that the children of overly strict parents are five times more likely to be overweight than those of parents who are slightly more lenient. The lesson: Don't punish every misstep, and reinforce self-regulating behavior through praise.

Expose, don't coerce
Children avoid unfamiliar foods, not just healthy ones. Keep putting asparagus on the plate, and don't get angry when he doesn't touch it for two months. You want to breed familiarity; which will lead to experimentation one day, says Leanne Birch, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University's Human Development and Family Studies department. They'll become fans without resentment, because it was their decision.

Don't demonize food
"Don't really talk about what's healthy; just provide healthy foods," says Miller-Kovach. Kids learn by watching you, not from lectures about saturated fat. And pushing a food because it's "good for you" will make them crave something else. Don't withhold dessert until the vegetables are gone; you're teaching them that ice cream is the prize, and they can avoid green beans whenever you're not around. Most importantly, never go to extremes and say "no sugar," "no fast food" and so on; they'll make a beeline for them.

Spring for DVR
A 2004 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, California, found that TV advertising greatly contributed to unhealthy food choices in children. Your kid sees an average of 40,000 ads annually, so record programs and fast-forward through the commercials whenever possible.

Control what you can
You can determine everything your two-year-old eats. Your 12-year-old, no way. So don't try. "Once they get older, you shouldn't try to control what they're eating outside," says Miller-Kovach. They'll do the opposite. Walk the walk, skip the talk.

Don't talk diets
While it seems harmless to say, "You need to cut down on candy to get back in shape," this introduces the defeating notion of "going on a diet." They must not view eating well and maintaining a healthy weight as a destination, but as "something they'll be doing forever," says Molly Carmel, who has worked with hundreds of overweight children as senior clinical director at the Academy of the Sierras weight-loss boarding school.

Move, sweat, stay active
And finally, check out these activities you can do with your kids.

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