By Christine Finck, MD, FACS, Surgeon-in-Chief and Michael Reiss, PsyD

September is National Childhood Obesity Month—a time to raise awareness about this complex and challenging problem in our country. One in five kids in the U.S. is obese and childhood obesity can put kids at risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. These conditions were once seen only in adults.

The good news? There are simple steps families can take to help encourage healthy behaviors—for everyone. Connecticut Children’s Dr. Christine Finck and Dr. Michael Reiss address healthy habits that can have a major impact for the better…

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1. Eat dinner together

Eating together as a family has many health benefits.  It increases structure around food and allows parents to keep an eye on their child’s food intake more effectively.

>Related: Portion Sizes for Kids: How Much Food is Healthy for My Child’s Age?

2. Explore different foods and cuisines.

The weeks have a way of looking the same.  Find a way to get creative with your meals.  Try a new food or cuisine together.  Incorporate a new fruit/vegetable into the mix.  Parents can be role models in leading by example.  Kids and teenagers can help in the kitchen.  You can even start the adventure at the grocery store.

>Related: Easy Ways to Use Up the Random Ingredients in Your Pantry

3. Cut the sugar-sweetened beverages.

Soda, juice, chocolate milk, energy and electrolyte drinks are considered sugar-sweetened beverages that have added sugar: not healthy for the internal organs.  Consider replacing these beverages  with water or even considering throwing a fruit in water to make a natural flavor.

Father and son cooking

4. Get out of the home and into the community when possible

If frequent snacking or limited structure around eating is an issue, try to have your child or teenager involved in the community.  Schools or public libraries may have some resources for volunteering.

5. Schedule physical activity.

You make time to go to appointments for your hair and teeth.  It’s time to do the same for exercise because physical activity has many physical and mental health benefits.  Pick a time to move with your family each day—it could be as little as five to ten minutes to start—and it doesn’t have to be anything too hard.  

Creating a sustainable exercise plan is so important for your health. You can start by walking—the perfect low-impact, but high-reward physical activity. Did you know there are incredible benefits to walking? Walking:

  • Reduces stress—engaging in walking will drop your stress levels! In a bad mood, go for a walk. There is nothing more healing than nature (beware of those pesky ticks, though). On weekends, if you have time, you can also go for a walk in the mountains to cleanse your body, mind, and spirit. If you don’t want to leave your house because of bad weather or no time, you can also walk on a treadmill or around the house!
  • Improves heart health—walking 30 to 45 minutes a day can help to reduce your risk for heart disease. Because walking increases your heart rate and gets your blood circulating, it strengthens the heart, lowers cholesterol levels, and ultimately reduces the risk of heart disease.
  • Burns calories—which, of course, helps you to lose weight if that’s your family’s goal.

>Related: 5 Heart-Healthy Choices for the Whole Family

How many calories does walking burn? That really depends on factors like:

  • Walking speed.
  • Distance and steps covered—the CDC recommends 10,000 steps a day.
  • Terrain—you’ll burn more calories walking uphill than on a flat surface.
  • Your weight.

Preventing obesity doesn’t have to be beyond imagination!