People may find it hard to believe that children need a diet and fitness plan. It's a common misconception that growing kids can eat anything and will stay healthy because they naturally enjoy running around and being active.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, one in every five children in the United States is overweight, and that number is growing. Genetic factors are a consideration, but many children are imitating the bad habits they see in Mom and Dad. This includes a poor diet, with a reliance on fast foods or processed foods, and not exercising. The average American child spends around 24 hours a week watching television. The increased popularity of computer and video games means kids may spend even less time doing physical activities.

Just like overweight adults, overweight children are at a greater risk for illness and disease, such as diabetes. Here are some tips for helping kids get fit and stay healthy.

  • Support your child. Don't criticize or blame him or her for the problem. Talk with your children about their concerns over weight and health. Teach them to accept and feel good about themselves whatever their body image.

  • Change your behavior. Be a role model by paying attention to your own diet and fitness without being obsessed with it. Show your children that you are confident in yourself and your body.

  • Get moving. Make exercise a family affair. There are plenty of activities that parents and children can enjoy together, no matter what the athletic abilities are. Plan family outings that include physical activities, such as walking, biking or swimming.

  • Practice healthy eating. Families are busier than ever, but that doesn't mean you have to give up nutrition. Many cookbooks feature fast, healthy recipes. Don't restrict certain foods or kids will just want them more. Provide nutritious snacks and teach your children about making healthy food choices on their own.

  • Little changes mean a lot. Just a few habit changes in your family can make a big difference. Discourage kids from eating while watching TV or on the computer. Eat as a family as much as possible and encourage kids to eat slowly and learn to enjoy good food. Invite children to participate in food choice and preparation.

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For more information on healthy eating and exercise, talk to a registered dietician or professional trainer, particularly one who has experience or expertise with children. If you feel that your child's weight may be causing serious health problems, consult a physician immediately.

NIDDK