Helping Kids Make Healthy Choices

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boy eating watermelon; UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic Helps Kids Make Healthy ChoicesMADISON – When six-year-old Caden came to UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic, his body mass index (or BMI) was already greater than 99% for his age. His mom was concerned and wanted to help find ways for Caden to manage his weight as he continued to grow.

"It's great that Caden's mom took such an active role," said Judy Hilgers, RN, nurse with the Pediatric Fitness Clinic. "Having a parent that's involved and willing to make changes really ensures a child will be successful at reaching their goals."
Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference
According to Hilgers, Caden is a perfect example of how little changes can make a huge difference over time.

"Caden loved doughnuts," said Hilgers, "and was sad he couldn't eat them anymore. His mom came up with a wonderful idea. She took Caden to the grocery store and together, they looked at nutrition information on various foods and found that blueberry muffins in the 100-calorie packages were a yummy, and slightly healthier, substitute"

Hilgers points out a few reasons why that was such an effective solution:
  • He was actively engaged in the food selection and was educated on how to choose healthier foods
  • Rather than telling him "no, you can't eat it," together Caden and his mom found a compromise.
"Parents can really help kids feel good about the choices they're making," commented Hilgers. "And because parents are the ones buying the groceries and preparing the food, they're critical in helping shape their children's eating habits."

Another tool that Caden used was a pedometer that the clinic provided. He now loves running around to see how many steps he can put on it. 

"Some children are very goal oriented," said Hilgers. "They love to see the results and try to surpass them."

Having a pedometer may also motivate the entire family to get out and move more if their children want to watch their pedometer numbers grow. There are numerous ways families can work together to make healthy lifestyle changes.

"If you really want to be successful, you can't single out the child," Hilgers commented. "You have to work together as a family."

Get Out and Get Active
She offers a few ideas for ways to make activity fun for the entire family, including: 
  • Go for a walk after supper and make a game of what you can find on the walk, such as the number of dogs, or red cars, or purple flowers, for example. It not only gets kids out, but gets them interacting with their environment as well. 
  • Play hopscotch. Kids love to watch adults play the game 
  • Play Frisbee, or catch or shoot hoops with a basket ball 
  • Jump rope 
  • Hula hoop. Kids will enjoy watching their parents try to use it.
Hilgers points out to parents that by playing together, "Not only will you be helping your child exercise, you will be spending quality time with them, which means the world to them and is something you'll hold precious for the rest of your life."

The goal of the Pediatric Fitness Clinic is helping kids learn how to eat, what to eat and how to find ways of increasing activity so that kids can go on to live long, healthy lives.

Many of the children who are patients at the clinic are already starting to show signs of disease that, until recently, were considered to be problems only adults faced. There are kids who already have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or high insulin levels that, if left untreated, will lead to a shorter life filled with health-related complications.

"I have heard parents say they will do anything for their child," Hilgers said firmly. "Now is the time for parents to live up to that. Parents need to help their kids learn how to eat well and add more movement to their lives. Not only will they be helping their child, but the whole family as well."

Date Published: 05/30/2008

News tag(s):  pediatric fitnesschild nutritionchildrens

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