It’s never too early to start teaching kids healthy habits— and that doesn’t just include brushing their teeth and eating their veggies. Research suggests teaching kids to stay active could be crucial in preventing childhood obesity and should factor just as prominently on that parenting “to do” list The role of parents in preventing childhood obesity. Lindsay, A.C., Sussner, K.M., Kim, J., et al. Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA. The Future of Children 2006 Spring; 16(1): 169-86..

Follow the Leader — The Need-to-Know

While some kids can’t sit still, others may require some help from mom and dad to go from couch potato to young fitness-phenom. Beyond verbal encouragement and logistical support (the kids can’t drive themselves to soccer practice, after all), parental attitudes toward health and fitness have been linked to influencing how their children view exercise Parental exercise is associated with Australian children's extracurricular sports participation and cardiorespiratory fitness: A cross-sectional study. Cleland, V., Venn, A., Fryer, J., et al. Menzies Research Institute, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2005 Apr 6; 2(1): 3.. Some research also shows that parents who exercise regularly are more likely to have kids who willingly get in on the action, too Parents are key players in the prevention and treatment of weight-related problems. Golan, M. Crow S. School of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, Rehovot, Israel. Nutrition Review 2004 Jan; 62(1): 39-50.. And as far as fueling up after little league games, studies suggest parents who eat more fruits and veggies have kids who eat similarly Parents are key players in the prevention and treatment of weight-related problems. Golan, M. Crow S. School of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, Rehovot, Israel. Nutrition Review 2004 Jan; 62(1): 39-50.. Monkey see, monkey do?

But being active as a family might have a pretty small window of opportunity. Other studies indicate that when it comes to family fitness, the impact of parental influence often decreases as children age Correlates of children and parents being physically active together. Lee, SM., Nihiser, A., Strouse, D., et al. Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2010 Nov; 7(6): 776-83.. While younger children are more open to being active with their parents, spending time with the ‘rents can be like soooo totally embarrassing for teens Correlates of children and parents being physically active together. Lee, SM., Nihiser, A., Strouse, D., et al. Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2010 Nov; 7(6): 776-83..

Play Day — Your Action Plan

Children can be masters of dissent, so forcing them to exercise might not always be the best strategy. While every parent has their own way of approaching life lessons, a better method when it comes to fitness is likely to get children to appreciate being active— and have a little fun along the way. “Because I said so” may work for putting the dishes away, but encouragement, celebrating small victories, and doing things together can also be effective ways to motivate kids to get fit and stay active— without the resentment Parents as agents of change in childhood obesity - from research to practice. Golan, M. School of Nutritional Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, Israel. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity. 2006; 1(2): 66-76. Interventions addressing general parenting to prevent or treat childhood obesity. Gerards, SM., Sleddens, EF., Dagnelie, PC., et al. Department of Health Promotion, NUTRIM School for Nutrition, Toxicology and Metabolism, Maastricht University, Maastricht University Medical Center, Maastricht, Netherlands. International Journal Pediatric Obesity 2011 Jun; 6(2-2): e28-45..

Whether it’s riding bikes, taking a martial arts class, or walking the dog every night, research shows it’s important to consistently present each activity in a positive light Healthy eating, activity and obesity prevention: a qualitative study of parent and child perceptions in Australia. Hesketh, K., Waters, E., Green, J., et al. Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and University of Melbourne, Royal Children's Hospital, Australia. Health Promotion International 2005 Mar; 20(1): 19-26.. It may take a bit of time and patience, but when children find the fun in being active, those good habits can last a lifetime. So put fitness right up there with teaching the golden rule, respecting their elders, and that there’s no hiding a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.

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