Our country has an epidemic of obesity in all age groups including children, adolescents and adults.  This is of concern because overweight and obese individuals have an increased risk for many health problems. Heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer are among conditions associated with obesity. Conditions and diseases associated with obesity that were once mainly diagnosed in adults are now found in children and adolescents with excess body weight. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease like high blood cholesterol, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes are increasing in children and adolescents.

Prevention of obesity, particularly in childhood is an important strategy to combat and reverse our obesity epidemic. Those already overweight or obese can change eating and physical activity habits to prevent additional weight gain and promote achieving a healthier body weight.

August is Kids Eat Right Month™ and a time the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Foundation emphasize the role we all have to ensure a healthy future for children.

We need to focus on the importance of healthy nutrition and active life styles for children and families and teach children healthier eating and activity habits. Developing healthful habits during childhood promotes lifelong health and wellness.

Parents and caregivers are among the first influential teachers of developing healthy habits. Being a role model is a great method for teaching.  Set a good example when serving your own plate. Make half the plate vegetables and fruits. Choose a lean protein source like fish, chicken, turkey or lean red meat. Add a serving of a whole grain. Brown rice, whole wheat pasta or whole grain bread are examples. Enjoy some dairy. Drink a glass of skim milk, eat low fat cottage cheese with fruit for a salad or yogurt and fruit for dessert.

Keep a bowl of whole fruit with apples, pears, bananas and oranges available and let children see you enjoy fruit for a snack instead of a high fat and high sugar cookie, brownie or pastry. Make water with a twist of lemon, lime or orange your beverage of choice instead of a high sugar soda.

Let children see you start your day with a balanced breakfast. Enjoy whole grain toast with peanut butter, apple slices and a glass of skim milk. If possible, get children involved in making a fun breakfast. Try breakfast wraps and offer them choices to put in their wrap. Start with a whole grain tortilla and fill with a scrambled egg and melted low fat cheese. Offer other toppings like chopped tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, salsa or other favorites. Roll, heat and enjoy with fresh fruit cup. Make breakfast pizzas. Use a whole grain English muffin for the crust, and low-fat mozzarella cheese and toppings children would like. Get children involved choosing and preparing breakfast, and they are more likely to eat it.

Include children as age allows in shopping for food. Let them choose between two or more healthful choices at the grocery store. For example, let them select several different colors of fresh fruits and vegetables from the produce section to put in the cart.

Ask children to help plan regular family activities. Have fun walking, riding bikes, swimming, skating or flying kites together. Encourage family members to eat meals together as a highlight of the day.