Getting back on track

If your children are overweight and have fallen into unhealthy habits, see your pediatrician for advice on healthy weight loss for kids. In the meantime, here are some small changes you can start today to get back on track:

Turn off the TV (and all other electronics). Dietitian Lucie Kramer recommends limiting all screen time — TV, tablets, smartphones, computers — to two hours a day.

Study up on the supermarket. To help parents put healthy meals on the dinner table at affordable prices, Louie’s Kids gives free grocery store tours to families every other Saturday at local Piggly Wiggly stores. Remember: Cooking healthy meals doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming.

Start a journal. If older children are struggling with weight, encourage them to write down what they eat every day along with how they felt about it. Seeing the connection between emotion and food can be eye opening, Louis Yuhasz said.

Go for a walk together. Start with small, attainable goals when it comes to exercise, Noah Moore recommends. Start with walking around the block. When you’ve mastered that, try intervals of jogging for 30 seconds and walking for 2 minutes. Make it a game so kids see exercise as fun.

For more tips and advice, check out www.louieskids.org or attend one of Louie’s Kids’ free family workouts every at 9 a.m. Saturday in Hampton Park downtown.

Back in 2007, 36-year-old dad Noah Moore had an “a-ha” moment when it came to his family’s health and wellness.

He realized the pizza delivery man knew the family by name, his son could name more fast-food restaurants than U.S. presidents and somehow since getting married and having a child, he had become so overweight he couldn’t play football in the yard with his son without feeling out of breath.

Moore recognized that his own unhealthy habits with food and exercise were being passed down to his son, a problem that is all too common in our state. According to the South Carolina Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, more than 65 percent of South Carolina adults are overweight or obese, which in turn is affecting their children.

A recent study by the Medical University of South Carolina’s Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness found that 43 percent of student participants in the Charleston County School District were overweight or obese. Of the teachers participating in the study, 70 percent also were found to be overweight or obese — a notable finding since children depend on parents and teachers to be role models.

On the front lines of the fight against childhood obesity in Charleston, Louie’s Kids founder Louis Yuhasz said the problem cannot be ignored, particularly in the South.

“I think if more of America were to really pay attention, they would be shocked,” he said. “This will be in the history books; the obesity epidemic will be one of the nation’s biggest shames, I believe: that we let this many children get this seriously sick and stood by and watched as it happened. If this were polio or cancer or kids smoking, would we take it so lightly?”

Lucie Kramer, registered dietitian and nutritionist at MUSC, said the most important thing to understand about childhood obesity is that it’s not an individual problem — it’s a community and a family problem. The good news is that easy solutions also start at home.

Parents first

After Moore’s personal epiphany about the state of his family’s health, the first thing he did was take matters into his own hands. He started walking and slowly jogging with his son. He started eating fruits and vegetables instead of fast food. Eventually, he lost more than 100 pounds.

“I literally ran the wheels off a baby stroller,” Moore said. “I had to change my whole way of thinking as far as exercise and eating and living a healthy lifestyle.”

Once he had his new routine, Moore started encouraging his son to be active by inviting him on runs and doing activities, such as races, together as a family. Today, Moore and his son, Peyton, 8, are regulars in Charleston’s running community. Moore runs ultra marathons and coaches other beginners in Couch to 5K programs at TrySports, and Peyton participates in the Mount Pleasant Track Club.

“I think him seeing me as a role model was really important,” Moore said. “Like most kids, he emulates what he sees around him. I was at lunch with him one day at school, and all his friends knew that I had gone on a training run that week that was 24 miles, and they all wanted to know about it. He talks about that kind of stuff with his friends because he thinks it’s cool.”

You don’t have to run ultra marathons to be a good example to your kids, either. Modeling active behavior for your children can be small things too, Kramer said. Take the family for a walk or bike ride after dinner each night. Make it part of the normal routine so children see exercise as a basic part of life.

“Modeling good behaviors is one of the biggest influences on children,” Kramer said. “What are the grown-ups around them doing? Even little things like not parking too close to where you’re going so you have to walk a little further, always taking the stairs — behaviors that they’ll just think are normal.”

Let’s move

To get the kids off the couch, up and moving, think of ways to make physical activity fun, Yuhasz said. As a family, activities could include roller skating, going to the beach, bowling, strolling through a new park or anything else that gets the whole family involved.

Charleston County parks offer a bevy of family and parent-child activities including archery, stand-up paddleboarding, rock climbing and kayaking.

“Instead of putting a child on a treadmill or on a track and saying ‘run,’ find workouts to inspire kids to think about exercise in fun ways rather than as drudgery or work,” Yuhasz said.

Youth sports are another option, through either school or community programs. Charleston and Mount Pleasant both offer community youth teams in everything from swimming to lacrosse for children as young as 5, said Shelli Davis, recreational coordinator for fundamental sports in Mount Pleasant. With basically year-round programming, there are plenty of opportunities for children to find the sports that are right for them.

“Starting at a younger age lets kids try all the sports, not just one,” she said. “It gives them a chance to figure out what it is to be on a structured team, follow instructions from a coach and work with teammates.”

Back to dinner table

The other major component of leading a healthy lifestyle is family mealtime.

Kramer recommends eating together as a family for at least one meal a day. Sitting down at the table together not only allows children to see parents modeling good eating habits (parents need to eat their veggies, too!), it gives the family time to talk — something that’s hard to do when eating in front of the TV or in the car.

Kramer said one of the major pitfalls to watch out for in your children’s diet is sugary drinks.

“Children don’t need to drink any calories unless it’s from skim or low-fat milk,” she said. “We don’t need all these products that companies want us to buy: soda, Capri Sun, fruit juice, so many different things. It should just be water.”

What parents should be focusing on is whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, Kramer said. Try to serve them in their unaltered state, meaning no added sugar to fruits or cheese on vegetables. Serve the vegetables every meal and eat them yourself. Eventually, the children will follow suit, she said.

“When kids are exposed to new things, research shows it takes an average of seven times for them to accept a new food. It’s easy for a parent to get frustrated and say, ‘I tried carrots, but he doesn’t like them. I have a picky eater.’ Now that child has a label that he knows and he can use to say ‘No thank you, I only eat pizza and chicken nuggets. I’m a picky eater.’ It’s very important not to make that label, so the opportunity stays available for that child to grow into new foods.”

One way to get children interested in new foods is to involve them in the food shopping and preparation process. Kramer suggests taking children grocery shopping and letting them pick out a new vegetable. Talk about the item they picked — where it came from, what it’s similar to — and find ways to cook it together.

“There’s a real benefit to getting the kids involved. I think it makes food less scary to them,” said Liz Verna, lead culinary instructor at Charleston Cooks! “Especially once the kids get a little bit older and they start to know what different foods look like and how to read recipes. It takes away the mystery behind cooking.”