Want to take steps towards a healthier life? Live Well Suffolk provides free and friendly guidance and support.
Call us now on 01473 22 92 92 or contact us via other means by clicking here
Physical activity helps children grow strong bones, maintain a healthy weight and discover the world around them. Best of all, it's great fun.
All children should be physically active for at least one hour a day. You can help by encouraging your child to find activities they enjoy, and by building physical activity into family life. Most children love running around a park or playing in a playground.
One reason why physical activity in childhood is so important is because it helps your child to maintain a healthy weight.
But that's not the only reason. Physical activity is a part of the way children discover the world and themselves. It helps to build strong muscles and healthy bones, as well as to improve self-confidence.
You can find advice on eating well and getting active as a family at the Change4Life website.
Bristol University’s professor of exercise and health sciences, Ken Fox, has 10 suggestions that can make exercise fun for all the family.
Ten activity tips for children
1. Walk or cycle to and from school with the kids as often as possible. Read about the health benefits of cycling.
2. Build a den or treehouse with them in the school holidays. Or, under supervision, encourage them to climb a tree or two.
3. Go roller skating, roller blading or skateboarding, indoor or out. In winter, go ice skating. Kids also love scooters.
4. Do an activity challenge together, such as working towards a fun run or a walk for charity.
5. Take the dog for a walk. If you don’t have one of your own, ask to borrow a neighbour’s or friend’s dog and take it for a walk.
6. Support your kids in sports, clubs or any other activities that may interest them. Joining a weekend club sport ensures commitment to a team and regular exercise. Find all kinds of sporting facilities in your area.
7. Find time every weekend to do something active with your children. Play frisbee or football in the park, go trampolining or try indoor rock climbing.
8. Fly a kite. The Kite Society of Great Britain's website lists a number of groups that regularly meet for special flying days with experienced members who offer advice and assistance. Some also run kite-making workshops.
9. Try a beach holiday. When they hit the sand, children find a multitude of ways to exercise, including games, swimming and plenty of running around. Or try an activity-based holiday. Read more about healthy holidays with children and activity holidays.
10. The National Parks website has lists of events such as guided walks and children’s fun days, for fresh ideas for active days out.
It’s just as important to make sure the lunchbox your child takes to school provide a healthy, balanced lunch as when they eat at home.
This means plenty of foods that contain the nutrients that children need, and fewer foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat.
You can learn the healthy foods basics in Good food and diet.
Packing the lunchbox
A balanced packed lunch should contain:
- Starchy foods. These are bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and others.
- Protein foods. These are meat, fish, eggs, beans and others.
- A dairy item. This could be cheese or yoghurt.
- Vegetables or salad, and a portion of fruit.
Starchy foods are a good source of energy, and should make up a third of the lunchbox. But don’t let things get boring. Instead of sandwiches give kids bagels, pitta bread, wraps and baguettes. Use brown, wholemeal or seeded bread, not white bread.
Get ideas for healthy starchy foods.
Children often like food they can eat with their fingers, so chop up raw veggies such as carrots or peppers, and give them houmous or cottage cheese to dip the veggies in. Breadsticks and wholemeal crackers are great finger foods and they can be spread with low-fat soft cheese or eaten with reduced-fat cheddar and pickles.
Replace chocolate bars and cakes with fresh fruit, dried fruit or unsalted nuts. Vary the fruit each day and get them to try new things, like kiwi or melon.
Here are more ideas for healthy food swaps.
You could also make up a tasty fruit salad. Be inventive and encourage your children when they try something new.
Making healthier food
It may take a while for your children to get used to a healthier lunchbox. But it will be worth it for their health, so keep trying.
You can help by eating a wider range of foods at home, as a family. For ideas on how to introduce more fruit and vegetables into your family’s diet, read 5 A DAY and your family.
Reading supermarket food labels can help you to buy healthier foods for your child's lunch, and for family meal times. Learn more in Buy healthier food.
Save chocolate and cakes for occasional treats. Remember to praise your child when they've tried something new, to show your encouragement.
You can find lots of ideas for healthy lunches at Change4Life: healthy lunchbox ideas.
There are more ideas for healthy packed lunches at the Children's Food Trust website page on packed lunches.
You can learn more about the connection between healthy weight and health in Your child's weight.
Your child’s weight matters, because it can affect their health now and in the future.
Overweight children are more likely to grow up into overweight adults, who face all the health risks that carrying excess weight can bring.
If your child is overweight, it's time to take action.
Help your child get slim
The good news is that there are steps you can take that will set your child on the road to a healthy weight.
If your child is very overweight, or if they have other health conditions, it’s a good idea to ask for support. Your GP can help (see below).
Children are growing, so it’s usually not necessary for overweight children to lose weight. Instead, it is usually better that the child maintains their current weight while they continue to grow in height. This will depend on how overweight your child is, and other factors.
If you’re unsure about this or other issues, ask for advice from your GP or practice nurse.
Get healthy as a family
A healthy, balanced diet and plenty of physical activity will lead to a healthy weight for your child.
Making changes to your family’s lifestyle can make a real difference to your child’s weight. These changes work best, and are easiest, when the whole family joins in.
Eat regular meals, together and without distractions (such as TV) as a great first step towards a healthier diet. Cook yourself rather than relying on ready-made meals to help you to lower the fat and sugar content in your meals.
You can learn more about a healthy diet in Food and diet.
If your family eats snacks and meals that are high in fat or sugar, such as chocolate, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks, aim to replace these with healthier alternatives such as fruit. Read more about healthy food swaps.
Physical activity is also an important part of achieving a healthy weight. The amount of physical activity that is recommended for children depends on their age, and children who are overweight may need to do more than the recommended amount in order to lose weight. For more on how much activity children should do, and what counts as activity:
- If your child is under five read Physical activity guidelines for children.
- If your child is aged between five and 18 read Physical activity guidelines for children and young people.
Aim to reduce the amount of time your child spends on inactive hobbies, such as watching television and playing video games.
It’s also important to help your child develop a positive body image and good self-esteem. Habits in childhood will remain as they grow into adults, so praise them when they try healthier foods or when they swap a sedentary activity for an active one.
You can learn more about the lifestyle changes that can help your child at the Change4Life website.
How the school can help your child
The school that your child attends should support you in helping your child to achieve a healthy weight.
All schools should provide opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food at lunch time. Some schools will also help to ensure that your child does not bring unhealthy foods to school, by working with parents to set guidelines on packed lunches.
If your child is overweight, talk to your child's teachers about your plans to help your child slim down, and how the school can support this.
You’ll find ideas for healthy packed lunches in our section on healthy lunchboxes.
If you feel uncertain about helping your child to achieve a healthy weight, or the changes you’ve made don’t seem to be helping, then seek support.
This is also a good idea if your child is very overweight, has a health condition or any other special needs such as a learning difficulty.
Your GP or practice nurse can assess your child’s weight and provide further advice on lifestyle changes.
They may also be able to refer you to a local weight management programme for children, such as those run by the Weight Management Centre, MEND and Carnegie Weight Management. These programmes are often free to attend through your local PCT, and typically involve a series of weekly group workshop sessions with other parents and their children.
At these workshops you’ll learn more about the diet and lifestyle changes that can help your child to achieve a healthy weight.