Avoiding Childhood Obesity

These proven and simple tactics can help your child stay fit, not fat.

By Stacey Colino

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15 ways to fight childhood obesity11. Exercise portion control.
Americans like to get their money's worth, which is why many restaurants serve entrée portions large enough for three. Indeed, a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that the reason French people can eat rich food and remain slim may be that restaurant and packaged food portions are generally 25 percent and sometimes as much as 72 percent smaller than those in the United States.

12. Ask your pediatrician to calculate your child's BMI.
The AAP recently began recommending that pediatricians screen their patients for obesity—by tracking their body mass index, an approximate measure of body fat—at routine checkups. "It's helpful to see it plotted on growth charts and tracked over time to see if it is going up too rapidly," Krebs explains.

13. Rally behind phys ed.
Public schools have become increasingly sedentary environments as physical-education programs have been slashed in favor of academic subjects. From 1991 to 2001, the number of U.S. schools offering daily PE classes declined from 42 percent to 32 percent. "Support PE through parent-teacher programs," says Robert McMurray, Ph.D., professor of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And push for more activity in the classes themselves: McMurray found that kids were active, on average, only six to 10 minutes during a 45-minute PE class.

14. Clean up your kid's cafeteria.
Many cash-strapped schools have opened their doors to vending machines and fast-food service, using the profits to finance extracurricular programs. But some parents have taken a stand against this trend: In Montgomery County, Maryland, parents outlawed doughnuts from area middle schools, and in Los Angeles, the school board banned the sale of soda in school vending machines. First step? Contact a member of your school board and ask to get your ideas on the next agenda.

15. Lobby your local government for more recreational space. "Kids need greater access to parks and playgrounds," McMurray says. If enough people band together, you increase your chances of convincing the planning commission to put these areas in place or require that a certain portion of new housing developments be designated for playgrounds or parks, or for biking and hiking trails.

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