Get the Facts: Healthy Kids Make Healthy Adults
Focused on Health - July 2009
By Alaina Spaniol
A healthy lifestyle is often the best way to prevent many types of cancer. If children are taught healthy habits at a young age, they will be on the right path to preventing cancer later in life.
Parents and grandparents should encourage children to exercise and eat healthy. Children often copy their family’s behavior, so a change in your lifestyle might be needed as well. If parents enjoy healthy foods, their children will be more likely to try them. The same goes for exercising. The best way to keep children healthy is to set a good example for them.
Keep kids moving and eating right
Health experts say children should exercise at an intensity high enough to raise their heart rate for at least 60 minutes a day, five days a week. To get the right amount each day, exercise as a family. Play baseball in the front yard or ride bikes together. Even family chores like raking leaves and washing cars are good exercise. When the whole family works together, chores can be fun.
A healthy diet and exercise keeps little bodies strong. Children should get two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables every day, says the United States Department of Agriculture.
Vegetables – one serving includes:
- ½ cup of chopped raw or cooked vegetables
- 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
Fruits – one serving includes:
- 1 piece of fruit or melon wedge
- ¾ cup of juice
- ½ cup of canned fruit
- ¼ cup of dried fruit
Fruits and vegetables should be a big part of a little person’s diet as soon as he or she starts eating solids. For children ages two to three, a serving size is about two-thirds of the regular serving sizes listed above.
Teach kids to be “snack-wise”
Young children usually eat two to three snacks every day. Fruits and vegetables are a great, healthy option.
- Keep lots of fruits and vegetables freshly cleaned, peeled and cut for easy snacking.
- Veggie snacks: celery stuffed with peanut butter, carrots and low-fat dip
- Fruit snacks: chunks of banana or pineapple, tangerine sections, apples with peanut butter
- Store unhealthy snacks in a high cupboard out of sight.
Keep kids at a healthy weight
Children who are obese tend to remain obese into their adult years. Many people do not know that obesity increases a person’s chances of getting cancer. Obesity may cause 25 to 30% of several major cancers, such as colon and breast cancer, says the National Cancer Institute.
The best way to know if your children are at a healthy weight is to check their BMI or Body Mass Index beginning at age two. BMI is a number that’s obtained based on a child's weight and height. It’s not a perfect measurement, but it is very useful.
For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific. A child’s BMI number is plotted on a growth chart (for either girls or boys) to obtain a percentile ranking. This percentile shows how the child's BMI number compares to other children of the same sex and age. Children with a healthy weight are usually in the five to 85 percentile of their group.
Check your child’s BMI with the CDC child and teen BMI calculator.
It’s important to note that BMI is not a diagnostic tool. For example, a child may have a high BMI for their age and sex, but to determine if excess fat is a problem, a health care provider would need to do further tests.
Eat good fats and avoid bad ones
Don’t completely get rid of fats from your child’s diet to control their weight. Good fats have essential nutrients that help children’s bodies to function properly. Some healthy fats may even play a role in fighting cancer.
- Saturated fats: mostly in animal products
- Found mostly in beef, pork, poultry fat, butter, whole milk, coconut oils
- Trans fats: shortening and vegetable oils
- Found in foods fried in partially hydrogenated fats, processed foods, commercial baked goods, stick margarines
- Polyunsaturated fats: in safflower, sunflower and corn oils, and flaxseed
- Found in oily fish, such as salmon and sardines
- Monounsaturated fats: in canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil
- Found in olives, avocados, nuts and peanut butter
Studies suggest that one type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3s, may help to protect the body from developing cancer, says the American Institute for Cancer Research.
The United States Department of Agriculture suggests that parents keep total fat intake between:
- 30 to 35% of calories for children two to three years of age
- 25 to 35% of calories for children and adolescents four to 18 years of age
Good habits begin in childhood. Take care of your family with healthy diets and plenty of exercise to decrease your children’s chances of getting cancer later in life.
About BMI for Children and Teens (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
MyPyramid (United States Department of Agriculture)