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Teach Kids Positive Health Habits

Teach Kids Positive Health Habits
M. D. Anderson News Release, 08/29/03

It’s that time again - as you’re putting away swimsuits, dusting off backpacks and sending kids back to the classroom, make sure they start the academic year with healthy habits for preventing cancer.

"Research has shown that up to two-thirds of all cancers may be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes," says Bernard Levin, M.D., vice president for cancer prevention at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

These lifestyle factors include eating five servings daily of fruit and vegetables, avoiding tobacco, limiting time in the sun and exercising regularly, he says. Additionally for adults, the list includes limiting alcohol consumption and knowing your family’s history of cancer.

“Increased fruit and vegetable consumption has been linked to decreased risk of lung, prostate, bladder, esophagus, colorectal and stomach cancers,” Levin says.

During the summer, the Texas Legislature made it easier for kids to avoid junk food in school by limiting access to foods and beverages that compete with healthy school lunches. This action affects all Texas public schools and includes a complete ban on junk food access in elementary schools.

“Our children are facing dire health consequences from obesity, but we can help solve this problem by providing more nutritious food choices in school menus and in vending machines on school campuses,” Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs said during a June 26 news conference in Corpus Christi, according to the Legislature’s Web site.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also, on June 22, signed legislation creating a joint interim committee to study nutrition in children in Texas public schools. The committee is charged with looking at all foods and beverages provided to Texas schoolchildren, including the national school food program, a la carte foods, competitive foods, such as candy bars and chips, and vending machine foods.

In addition to supporting good nutrition habits at home and school, parents can teach kids to say no when peers offer a cigarette or chewing tobacco. 

Research has shown that people who begin smoking as adolescents suffer more DNA damage than those who begin smoking as adults. This is particularly important to know, because research has shown that about 3,000 youths begin smoking each day.

“DNA damage puts early-age smokers at even greater risk for developing lung cancer,” says Margaret R. Spitz, M.D., chair of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Epidemiology. “This information tells more clearly than ever about the importance of preventing smoking initiation in teens, and of helping teen smokers quit.” 

Skin cancer is a significant health problem in the sunbelt. To protect against sun damage to skin, make sure kids wear sunscreen, hats and protective clothing when outdoors, says Ellen R. Gritz, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Behavioral Science.

Help kids remember to protect themselves before soccer practice, bike riding, roller blading, raking leaves and other outdoor activities.

"Skin damage is cumulative, and children have many opportunities to be exposed to the sun," she says. "Sunburns also increase your lifetime risk of melanoma."

For more information about cancer prevention, visit M. D. Anderson’s online Good Living Mall. For information about a speaker for your local school, teachers may e-mail M. D. Anderson’s Public Education Office at

Tips for Family Exercise

People who make exercise part of their everyday routines gain the most health advantages - and are most likely to continue. Make exercise a life-long habit, but see your doctor first before beginning an exercise program or new physical activities.

Researchers have found that about 30 minutes of exercise three to four times per week may help decrease your risk of several types of cancer, including colorectal and prostate cancer. Cooler fall weather can make these outdoor exercises pleasant.

  • Put some distance between your family and cancer by putting some miles on bicycles. Bike ride through your neighborhood or local parks.
  • Schedule family evening walks as often as possible.
  • Challenge the kids to regular tennis matches, one-on-one basketball or other sports.
  • Set up a friendly soccer scrimmage for a workout for all ages. Invite neighborhood children and adults.
  • Take the family for weekend nature hikes at local parks or hiking trails. Younger children can enjoy making a list of insects and plants.
  • Toss the football, baseball or frisbee with your children for a game of catch.
  • Reacquaint yourself with the game of tag with your younger children. They'll love it, and so will your cardiovascular system.

Tips for Helping Children Eat Healthy Foods

Help children begin a lifetime of healthy eating habits that ultimately may help reduce their cancer risk. Although chips and candy are easy because they’re packaged for grab-and-go, make the healthy choice just as easy.  You may be surprised at how simple it is to get your kids to eat healthy by doing the same for fruits and veggies.

  • Store washed and sliced carrots, celery and broccoli in a plastic bag next to a bowl of low-fat dip in the refrigerator. Easy for kids to grab and go.
  • Fill a bowl with apples, oranges, bananas and pears and leave it on the kitchen counter. Add several individual-serving boxes of raisins. Fruit becomes easy to reach and doubles as attractive kitchen décor.
  • Load the refrigerator with juice boxes and single-serving containers of applesauce, fruit cocktail or low-fat yogurt. Kids really go for this. 
  • Encourage your kids to ask for their favorite healthy snacks if they notice, before you do, that you’re running low.
  • Plan nutritious meals ahead of time. You'll be less likely to resort to fast food or high-fat frozen foods for convenience.
  • Set a good example. Children usually do what their parents do.  Instead of making sodas your beverage of choice, stock up on the fruit juices you enjoy.



© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center