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September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and as a leading voice for youth development and healthy living, the YMCA of Western North Carolina offers ways to prevent and combat this serious health issue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five children in the United States is considered obese, putting them at a higher risk than their peers for serious health conditions, and also at an increased risk of growing into adults who are more at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancers.

“ Childhood obesity has a generational impact that extends into adulthood and impacts families and communities,” said Melissa Wiedeman, vice president of K-12 child care operations at the YMCA of WNC. “At the Y, we’re committed to teaching and showing kids and families the power of healthy habits, including diet, positive food choices, outdoor time, exercise and more. Healthy kids grow into healthy adults.”

While healthy habits begin at home, families often need community support to be successful. The Y aims to make healthy living approachable, affordable, and accessible. The sooner kids start developing healthy habits, the more likely they are to avoid obesity-related health problems, and grow into healthy adults.

Here are some tips to incorporate healthier eating habits and more physical activity and into your daily family routine:

Eat and drink healthy: Make water the drink of choice and encourage everyone to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables by offering two or three colorful options at every meal. As a family, choose a new fruit and veggie every week to taste together. Place a full pitcher of water on the table during meals and allow children to pour their own water. Keep full water bottles available in the car and back packs.

Play every day and/or go outside: Children should have at least an hour a day of unstructured play outside (when possible) and break a sweat at least three times a week by getting 20 minutes or more of vigorous physical activity. Join your children in games that get your hearts pumping and bodies moving.

Get together: Eat as a family as frequently as possible. Involve kids in meal planning, preparation, and clean up. In addition, adults should take a break from electronics and spend one-to-one time each day with their kids, enjoying one another’s company.

Reduce recreational screen time: Time spent in front of a television, computer, tablet, cell phone, or video games should be limited to two hours or less per day. Make a family plan to reduce screen time at home (for example, turn off screens during meals, charge electronics in the kitchen overnight, go for a walk after a meal, or set a timer to remind you to power down the screen).

Sleep well: Kids and adults need to keep a regular sleep schedule. Unwind together in the evenings by reading a book or listening to soft music to ensure the body is preparing for sleep. Kids need 10-12 hours of healthy sleep per night, while adults should get seven to eight hours.

As kids return to the classroom, it can be challenging to maintain the level of activity they had during the summer. The Y keeps kids moving during out-of-school time through afterschool and sports programs that provide exercise, create healthy habits, and build confidence. The Y’s afterschool programs for children and teens follow healthy eating and physical activity standards, support kids with homework, and offer a wide array of activities and great guidance for living a balanced life outside of school. Kids also get active, build critical teamwork skills, and develop character through Y sports programs. For more information on the Y’s programming designed to keep kids healthy, visit ymcawnc.org .

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