Resolutions for 2012: How to improve your kids’ health

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Let’s face it: there aren’t many young people who make New Year’s resolutions to get healthier, but parents can. And as we all know, the resolution is just the first step. The hard part is the follow through, and that’s tough when so many kids crave a steady diet of pizza, French fries, and video games on the couch.

Doctor Sara Bell, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente’s Orchards medical office, has some great advice on making successful resolutions to improve your child’s health.

Here’s a start: limit screen time to get kids moving. Set a goal of capping TV and computer time at 90 minutes each day, and follow through by removing all electronics – TV, cell phone, games, computers -- from kids’ rooms. It’s easier to be the sheriff on this one if kids aren’t hibernating in the bedroom.

“This will also help your kids get enough sleep,” said Dr. Bell. “Kids need at least eight hours a night, and all of that technology in the bedroom keeps them awake.”

So, once you’ve pried them away from the screens, how do parents make good on the resolution to get that 30-60 minutes of physical activity every day?

“Try to make it a family goal,” said Dr. Bell. “Do things together if you can. And don’t hesitate to be creative! Have kids walk to the mailbox, or even dance around the room on rainy days. Start with a small, achievable goal and build up from there.”

The companion resolution to more exercise is, of course, eating healthier food. Again, it’s not easy. Doctor Bell says you can start by switching to fat free milk, and doing all you can to wean kids off of soda and other sugary beverages.

“A lot of these drinks are loaded with sugar AND caffeine,” said Dr. Bell. “You might get a temporary boost, but then your child could ‘crash’ later, and might also have trouble sleeping at night. Water is better.”

At mealtimes, Dr. Bell suggests moving away from serving dinner family style, with everyone digging into large platters of food. “It’s easier to control portions if you serve meals restaurant style (serve up the plate yourself and hand it to the child), without the giant restaurant portions!,” said Dr. Bell. Here’s another idea: buy smaller plates that hold a little less food.

And if you think teenagers can’t change their diets, then you should meet 13-year-old Austin Stanfill of Vancouver (and one of Dr. Bell’s patients). He’s dropped 20 pounds in eight months through exercise and changes in his diet, with support from his family and his Kaiser Permanente care team. He even has a new nickname at school: “Fancy Salad Man.” Last month KATU News did a story on Austin, who has even influenced others to jump on the healthy lifestyle bandwagon.

Austin is practicing what Dr. Bell is preaching, and he tells everyone that will listen that he feels better, concentrates better, and has more energy since he’s started eating healthier, more nutritious food.

Dr. Bell says not only can you make New Year’s resolutions, you can keep them. But make it a team effort!

photoDave Northfield, Media Relations Manager for Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

Dave Northfield is the Media Relations Manager for Kaiser Permanente Northwest. He worked by over 20 years as a journalist, nearly all of it in television, most recently at KGW in Portland. He is excited about a future health care system that's more coordinated, accessible, and focused on prevention.