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Fitness is a Family Affair

Fitness is a Family Affair

As the kids return to school and the warm summer nights turn into brisk fall evenings, you and your clan’s days will likely become much more structured than they were in the previous months – and that’s a good thing for several reasons, including physical fitness. According to a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, the scientific community agrees that attending school can result in modest improvements to weight status and to obesogenic behaviors, which are habits that tend to lead to obesity, such as a sedentary lifestyle, extended screen time, and lack of physical activity. One theory, known as the Structured Days Hypothesis, takes things a bit further, suggesting improvements made during the school year are actually erased as elementary-aged children break for summer vacation. 

The studies referenced above are just two of many that confirm healthy habits start at home, but in a world where most of us don’t have time to go grocery shopping let alone cook, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Fortunately, Mississippi parents aren’t on their own when it comes to healthy living. The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson actually has a program devoted to helping families live their best, healthiest lives. “UMMC’s Pediatric Weight Management is a multi-disciplinary program that focuses on a family-based approach to healthy lifestyle behaviors,” said Shanda Sandridge, a nurse practitioner at the Pediatric Weight Management Clinic at UMMC. “Our program includes a medical provider, dietitian, psychologist, physical therapist, and pharmacist. We all work together to help families meet their health goals.” 

Working on the frontlines of the childhood obesity epidemic, Sandridge knows firsthand the importance of a healthy lifestyle. She also knows ways parents and kids can work together to combat obesity and embrace good health and fitness. Luckily, she chose to share some of that wisdom with us. 

PARENTS & KIDS: How serious of an issue is childhood obesity?

SHANDA SANDRIDGE: Childhood obesity is a serious health concern that is associated with other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and fatty liver disease. There are also many psychological [effects] that obese children face, such as anxiety, depression, and bullying.  

P&K: What are signs parents should look for to prevent obesity?

SS: The most important strategies for preventing obesity are to instill healthy eating behaviors, participate in regular physical activity, and reduce sedentary activity to 1-2 hours per day (such as watching television and video games).

P&K: When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, how important is a good diet? What about physical activity? 

SS: Healthy eating and physical activity go hand-in-hand in preventing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. It is good to incorporate foods from each of the food groups when planning meals and incorporate healthy snacks that consist of a protein and carb source. Examples include: apples and peanut butter, grapes and string cheese, or cheese and crackers. Physical activity is really important in children, as it helps to build strong bones and muscles, improves physical fitness, and aids in weight control. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. 

P&K: Is it ever too soon/too late to instill healthy habits in children?  

SS: It is never too early to instill healthy habits in children. Children often mirror parental habits, so it is best for everyone in the family to be involved in promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors that include eating fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods, and participating in regular physical activity. 

P&K: Do you have any other tips for parents trying to steer their children toward a healthier lifestyle? 

SS: Eliminating sugary drinks is one of the easiest things that parents can do decrease the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Encourage children to be active and limit screen time to 1-2 hours per day.

Daniella DiRienzo is a self-proclaimed southerner who graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2011 and has been working as a freelance writer ever since.

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