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AAP Updates Recommendations on Obesity Prevention: It’s Never Too Early to Begin Living a Healthy Lifestyle

In updated recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers practical steps families can take to help children maintain a healthy weight. The advice comes as part of an AAP clinical report published in the July 2015 issue of Pediatrics. The report, “The Role of the Pediatrician in Primary Prevention of Obesity,” (published online June 29), offers guidance to pediatricians and families on how to include healthy habits into daily life, including a well-balanced diet, increased physical activity and reduced sedentary behaviors. “It is never too early for a family to make changes that will help a child keep or achieve a healthy weight,” said Sandra Hassink, MD, FAAP, president of the AAP and co-author of the report. “Families can improve their eating habits in a variety of ways, but it is important for healthy eating and physical activity to be tailored to the child’s developmental stage and family characteristics.” The prevalence of pediatric obesity has increased significantly in the past few decades, and is now recognized as a public health priority. Parents and families are encouraged to model healthy behaviors for children, and pediatricians are in a good position to help families find ways to do this together. Families can take simple steps to eat healthier. Changing the food parents bring into the home – and how they store and serve it — can help children make healthful choices. The AAP recommends:

  • Buy fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, high-calorie snacks and sweets.
  • If you want to have these foods for a special celebration, buy them shortly before the event, and remove them immediately afterward.
  • Healthy foods and beverages (water, fruits, vegetables and other low-calorie snacks) should be readily available and in plain sight on the kitchen table or counter, or in the front of the shelf in the refrigerator.
  • High-calorie foods should be less visible – wrapped in foil rather than clear wrap, and placed in the back of the fridge or pantry.
  • Encourage children to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

The AAP also recommends reducing sedentary behaviors. One way to achieve this is to have fewer TV sets in the home and to remove the TV and other media from the bedroom and the kitchen. Children who sleep less than 9 hours a night are more likely to be overweight or obese; focusing on bedtime, and understanding how much sleep children need at various ages can help improve a child’s overall health and well-being. Along with diet modifications and reducing screen time, the AAP encourages pediatricians to work with families to identify opportunities for physical activity. Families can enjoy physical activities together to meet the recommended 60 minutes of activity a day. This can include participating in team sports, going to a park, playground or walking/bicycle trails, bowling, dog walking, using the stairs or walking to a destination rather than driving. The AAP offers a physical activity “prescription” that pediatricians can use to serve as a reminder to families and patients about the goals they have set for physical activity. “Even when families have knowledge of healthy behaviors, they may need help from pediatricians to motivate them to implement behavior changes,” said Stephen Daniels, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition. “Parents and other family members are strongly encouraged to adopt the same fitness and lifestyle changes as the child. Pediatricians can educate families, provide support, and help them stay on track.”

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 64,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.