Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles Begin at Home
It hardly needs saying that families are one of the most important and lasting influences on the choices—health and otherwise—that children and youth make. So when it comes to preventing excess weight gain and obesity, parents and guardians have fantastic potential to steer children in directions that lay the foundation for lifelong good health.
Children today live in a world that more readily promotes unhealthy eating than healthy eating, and fosters sedentary activities more than physical activities. But parents can provide children with the tools and experience they need to ignore the unhealthy cues and make healthy choices.
Parents can do this by creating the healthiest home food environment possible: stocking the fridge and pantry with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other nutritious foods; keeping to a minimum low-quality foods and drinks, like sugary soda, sweets, and super-processed foods; eating dinner together as a family; and nurturing kids’ interest in food shopping and cooking, even gardening.
Parents can also create a home where being active daily is the norm: walking or biking with their kids to school; planning fun, active outings with family and friends; keeping TV and other screen time low; and simply encouraging kids to go out and play. And parents can make sure that kids regularly get enough sleep, since healthy sleep has been linked to healthy weight.
Of course, it’s important for parents to know whether children are indeed at a healthy weight. They can do this by making sure that a healthcare provider routinely measures body mass index percentile for age, and by discussing trends during annual checkups.
Above all else, parents and guardians should try to be good role models for their kids—eating healthfully, staying active, minimizing screen time, and living healthy lifestyles that children can internalize as they grow. Parents can also advocate for changes in our “toxic” food and activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices for all.
Teachers, coaches, family physicians, nutritionists, and other people directly involved in children’s lives can play similar roles to parents. And they can help parents develop the skills to navigate their families in a healthy direction.
With obesity a major and growing problem, ensuring a healthy home that helps guide youth toward long-term better health is more important than it ever has been. The benefits begin almost immediately and can spread to future generations.
This section of The Obesity Prevention Source summarizes obesity prevention recommendations for parents and families, based on a review of expert guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list on each page, as well as the links to useful toolkits and other resources.
Parents can foster lifelong healthy eating habits in their children by providing a variety of nutritious foods in the home, limiting junk food and sugary drinks, and modeling healthy choices.
Parents can foster active lifestyles, limit children’s screen time to less than two hours a day, and encourage a good night’s sleep to help kids stay at a healthy weight.
The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.