September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, providing us with an opportunity to learn more about this condition and take steps to help children live a healthy lifestyle. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for long term health problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Luckily, we can help reduce childhood obesity rates through promoting healthy eating and active lifestyle changes.

One of the best ways to encourage your child to live a healthy lifestyle is by setting a positive example and helping them make healthy food choices. There are many common misconceptions about “healthy” versus “unhealthy” options for kids.

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Healthy Foods for Kids

Here are some tips for foods frequently consumed by children:

Yogurt has great health benefits like calcium for bone health and probiotics for your gut, but with so many options having significant amounts of added sugar, choosing yogurt for your child can be tricky. Skip the added sugar and choose a plain yogurt. Add your own flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, or fresh fruit. Recent updates to nutrition labels make it easier to differentiate between naturally occurring versus added sugar in yogurt. It is always best to choose low fat or fat free dairy options.

• When choosing canned fruits or fruit sauces, always choose the unsweetened or “packed in water” options to avoid added sugar and empty calories.

• With cereal, granola, or granola bars, always look for choices that are 100% whole grain with little or no added sugar. To make the healthiest choice, sugar should not be listed as one of the first 3 ingredients. Be cautious, however, as sugar is often disguised under different names like sucrose, barley malt, dextrose, and maltose. You want the ingredients of the foods you choose to be items you recognize and can pronounce – the shorter the ingredient list, the better!

• Regular peanut butter is better! Reduced fat peanut butters have additional salt, sugars, and additives in them to make up for taste. Regular, full fat peanut butter is a natural source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, making it the better choice for sandwiches and snacks.

Avoid sugar sweetened beverages. Soda, juice, sports drinks, and flavored milks are full of added sugar. The calories provided by these beverages are of little nutritional value. Don’t stock the fridge with sugary beverages. Instead, keep jugs of cold water for your kids to grab. You can even infuse it with citrus or fruit for natural flavor. Get fun water bottles for your kids to refill throughout the day. Water is always the best choice, but when juice or sports drinks are offered, try techniques like watering them down or choosing the low or zero calorie options.

Incorporating these tips into your kid’s eating habits, in addition to promoting daily physical activity and limiting screen time, will set them on the path towards living a healthy, active lifestyle. Childhood obesity can be prevented, and we can be the example to work towards a solution.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.