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Countdown to end childhood obesity

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Millions of kids are overweight or obese, but together we can put an end to that. It’s as easy as “5-2-1-0.”

Roughly one in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, but you can do something about it. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults and at risk for diabetes and other health conditions, so it’s important to act early. September is Childhood Obesity Month, so there’s no better time to start.

Let’s Go! is a childhood obesity prevention program to help kids eat better, be more physically active, and live healthier lives. Just remember their “5-2-1-0” countdown message:

5 – Get your kids to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day. Make it fun with kid-friendly recipes. Let your kids choose fruits and veggies at the store that they want to try, help prepare meals and snacks in the kitchen, or even plant a vegetable garden together.

2 – Cut down kids’ screen time to 2 hours or less a day. (No screen time for those under 2.) Get them to try other ways to be entertained, such as playing a game or going on a scavenger hunt. These types of activities will get your kids’ bodies and minds working.

1 – Kids need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Sound like a lot? Just think of it as playing instead of exercise! Make it a family affair. Go to the playground, play a sport, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood together.

0Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead, have your kids drink water and fat-free or one-percent milk. If your kids aren’t fans of plain water, add a little pizazz with some sliced berries, citrus fruits, melons, or kiwis. And they can eat the fruit when they’re finished drinking!

For more information, tips, and resources, please visit Let’s Go!

Energy drinks and teens don’t mix

Energy drinks have become increasingly popular among teens, but they provide no health benefit and can even be harmful.

It’s cause for concern: Approximately 30% of teens consume energy drinks on a regular basis. Energy drinks provide no nutritional benefit and can actually pose health risks to adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, dehydration, and even death. Teens who consume energy drinks are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages, smoking cigarettes, and using drugs and alcohol.

Many of the negative effects associated with energy drinks are due to the large amounts of stimulants in these beverages. Their caffeine content can range from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens:

  • consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day (equal to about 2 cans of caffeine-containing soda or one 8 oz. cup of coffee) and
  • avoid energy drinks altogether.

However, the amount of caffeine teens consume from energy drinks is trending upwards, in part due to heavy marketing with celebrity athletes. Be sure to talk to your teens about the potential problems associated with energy drinks, and make sure they don’t confuse them with sports drinks.

Fuel your adolescent athlete

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Heat, humidity, and tough workouts can all be a part of an adolescent’s sports training program. Learn about proper nutrition and hydration to help them optimize performance.

Fall sports preparations are under way for many teen athletes, making it important for them to know what and when to eat and drink to be on top of their game. Two-a-days, strength-training programs, speed training—it sounds like the workout schedule of a professional athlete, but these are often components of teen athletes’ training for sports. Fueling the Adolescent Athlete contains valuable information on how they can fuel their bodies before, during, and after practice.

Fueling comes in two forms: what teen athletes eat to fuel up and what they drink to help stay hydrated. Eating nutrient-packed meals and snacks before, after, and even during practices and games is essential for optimal performance. The right balance of carbohydrates and protein work together to fuel and build muscles.

Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. It can be difficult for adolescent athletes to stay hydrated in heat and humidity, but drinking regularly and keeping an eye on their urine color can be helpful.

For more adolescent and family nutrition information, check out HPRC's Family Nutrition section.

Kids got grit?

Learn tips to help your child build “grit.”

Want to see your children equipped to persevere in the face of challenges? To instill “grit” in your kids, the trick is challenging with care, not just pushing harder.

Here are some tips to help your children develop grit:

  • Praise your children for working hard and using their talents, not for already having talent. Calling them “gifted” or “talented” doesn’t help if these labels become an excuse not to work hard.
  • Reward commitment by giving your children more chances to develop their interests. For example, if your child is always painting, try to encourage it by sending him or her to art camp.
  • Big goals usually require a lot of sustained effort for a child—more like a marathon than a sprint. Encourage persistence with words such as “Hang in there!” or “You can do it!” But remember that children have a much shorter attention span than adults.
  • Teach your children that failures and setbacks are an essential part of learning. Remind them that excellence comes from both triumphs and mistakes.
  • Give your children some space to become independent, so they can be self-reliant and self-motivated and learn from their own choices.

Grit doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time. But remember that children are children and need lots of free time and play time to develop optimally. For more insight into specific parenting styles, check out HPRC’s article about how to be a warm leader, not a drill sergeant.  

High-intensity exercise for your teen

April is the “Month of the Military Child.” Learn how to help your child stay fit for a healthier tomorrow.

High-intensity exercise is no longer a new fitness fad, and your children can benefit from this type of exercise too. It’s established as the most efficient way to improve overall fitness. And with this month’s focus on military children’s health, now is the time to teach yours good habits for the future.

This doesn’t mean that you need to take your children to a trainer for high-intensity interval training. What it does mean is that they should be getting the type of exercise or play that makes them breathe hard and gets their heart thumping. Both traditional and high-intensity exercise improve fitness in children and teens. This can be useful if you find your children getting bored doing the same kind of exercise or play all the time.

Remember when encouraging your child or teen to be active to let them find the kinds of activities and play that are most enjoyable for them. If your child is a competitive athlete and/or being trained by a professional, keep an eye out for symptoms of overuse, overtraining, and other injuries. Developing kids can experience the same kinds of injuries as adults. Help your child stay fit and healthy, and keep your family ready and resilient. 

Help stop bullying

Learn how to stop aggression in teens.

Roughly one in five teens is bullied at some point. It often involves hitting, pushing, or teasing, but gossip (both verbal and text) and being excluded are also forms of bullying.

The reasons for teen aggression are complex, but some school and home factors raise the chance of a teen being aggressive: rejection by peers, situations where aggression is socially acceptable, marital conflict and violence at home, feeling rejected by a parent, physical punishment by a parent, and/or parents who let their teens get away with any kind of behavior.

Since teens are still learning how to manage their emotions, aggressive behavior is a clue that they need more skills in this arena. Aggressive teens also are more likely to have problems at school that can follow them to adulthood, so it’s important to find solutions early. And of course, the victims of bullying suffer too.

Parents, schools, and communities can help stop aggressive behavior. Parents can reduce their teens’ exposure to aggression at home by controlling their own anger and outside the home by knowing where their teens are, who they’re with, and setting clear expectations for how to act when parents aren’t around. Teachers can learn to recognize aggression, communicate that it is unacceptable, and seek help/intervene. Schools can monitor areas where aggression is most likely to occur, such as playgrounds, restrooms, and hallways. (a website developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) offers lots of ideas for how to respond to bullying: Respond quickly and immediately to bullying behavior, find out what happened, and support the kids involved (both the bullies and those being bullied). In essence, don’t be a bystander. To learn more, visit this interactive page. The bottom line is that bullying is not acceptable, but it won’t stop unless you do something about it.

A military teen’s take on caffeine

Teens may be consuming more caffeine than they (or you) know. Learn from one military teen’s perspective about sources of caffeine and how teens can avoid consuming too much.

Coffee, energy drinks, energy shots, soda—we’re surrounded by these products, and many are marketed specifically to teens. Their advertisements make caffeine seem a harmless and effective boost to help teens meet the demands of school and after-school activities. Three of four U.S. children and young adults now consume some form of caffeine every day.

Teens shouldn’t consume more than 100mg of caffeine (roughly the amount in an average small cup of coffee) per day. That’s enough caffeine to give you energy and help you stay alert. But too much caffeine can be a serious problem. Signs that you’ve had too much caffeine can be jitters, nervousness, increased heart rate, and an upset stomach. For more about the symptoms of too much caffeine, read FDA’s article.

Many drinks and foods that contain caffeine don’t clearly say so on the label. Energy drinks, for example, can contain lots of different forms of caffeine, such as guarana, green tea extract, and yerba mate. Although you might see these listed on the label, you still might not see the total amount of caffeine listed. Energy drinks don’t have to report how much caffeine is in them. So think twice about how many of them you drink, and learn more from HPRC’s article about energy drinks.

And for athletes: Don’t use energy drinks to replace sports drinks for extra energy. The same goes for other beverages with caffeine: sodas, coffee, and tea. Sports drinks are for hydrating and replacing electrolytes and other nutrients lost while exercising. Water is best in most cases!

Just because something contains caffeine doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate it. Be aware of all the different sources of caffeine and try not to overdo it. And be sure to watch HPRC’s “Caffeine & Teens” video for more from a teenager’s perspective.

Based on a blog by HPRC intern Diana Smith. Diana is a military teen and high-school sophomore who is interested in science and enjoys drawing in her downtime. 

Help your kids be healthy through regular exercise

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. A great way to combat obesity is through a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise.

Regular exercise can build strong muscles and bones and promote overall health. It is especially important that children exercise and learn healthy habits early on. Exercise can also boost kids’ self-esteem, improve sleep, and stimulate learning in school. But do you know what kinds of exercise your children or teens should be doing? Check out HPRC’s Answer, “Put some fun in your children’s fitness,” to find out. And visit the COAM website to learn more about the American College of Sports Medicine’s National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Fostering children’s shut-eye

Sleep needs depend on age. Children need more than adults, but the amount depends on age. Find out how much your child needs and how to make sure he or she gets it.

Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a day, but do you know how much sleep your children should be getting? Pre-school children (ages 3-5) need 11–12 hours a day, school-age children (ages 5-12) need at least 10 hours a day, and teens (ages 13–18) need 9–10 hours a day. But many children and teens are not getting the recommended amounts. For example, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights how almost 70% of teens are not getting the sleep they need.

Don’t know how much sleep your child is getting? Keep a sleep diary to track his/her sleep for two weeks.

Not sure how to help your child get the best sleep possible? Try the following tips. (They’re great for adults, too.)

Make sure your child has a consistent sleep schedule, including a consistent bedtime.

Provide the same quiet, dark bedroom environment for your child every night.

Help your child or teen have a relaxing bedtime routine that helps them prepare for sleep.

Avoid stimulation near bedtime. That means no sodas or other drinks with caffeine* and no TVs or computers in the bedroom.

Exposure to daylight helps set up a sleep rhythm, so make sure your child spends some time outside every day.

Turn the lights down to help your children wind down about an hour before bed and avoid using TVs or computers during this time as well.

Provide a low-stress family environment. Read HPRC’s “Family relationships affect your child’s sleep” for more information.

* Some experts recommend not giving children any caffeine, but if your child or teen does consume some, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children should not exceed 2.5 mg/kg per day and teens should not exceed 100 mg/day. 

Fuel your adolescent athlete for optimal performance

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships, Nutrition
Fall sports are under way for many adolescent athletes. Help your teen gain the edge by knowing what he or she should eat and drink.

Fall sports are under way for many adolescent athletes, making it important for teens to know what and when to eat and drink to be at their best. HPRC has created a resource—“Fueling the Adolescent Athlete”—to help your adolescent athlete fuel his or her body for optimal performance. This table provides general guidelines for what teens need to drink and eat before, during, and after practice or workouts.

Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. But knowing whether you are hydrated can be difficult. Check out this urine color card from the U.S. Army Public Health Command to get an idea of what to watch out for. And see if your child’s school has the chart posted in the locker rooms and nurse’s office.

For more adolescent and family nutrition information, check out HPRC’s Nutrition section.

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