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Outdoor Activities and Smart Eating Carry Weight for Staying Fit

January 21, 2002|EMILY DWASS

Now that the holidays are over, adults are counting calories and heading to the gym in droves--after all, many Americans, kids included, are overweight. But for kids, the game plan is different.

Kids still are growing, and they require a variety of healthy foods. Drastic dieting is not recommended, because it deprives a young body of nutritional needs. But that doesn't mean kids should sit on the couch eating chips.

"Kids have to eat smart," says Dr. Byron Patterson, director of the pediatric sports medicine division at UCLA. "Try to eliminate junk foods and have a lot of fruits and vegetables."

Sodas, candy, pastries and chips may taste good, but they provide only empty calories--meaning they fill you up but don't provide nutrients to help you grow. Too much of their fat and sugar, combined with too little exercise, can create a lifelong battle with weight.

Physical inactivity and unhealthy eating can cause serious problems, such as heart disease and diabetes, down the road.

One important tool in becoming healthy is to get moving. Patterson recommends that kids try to find a form of exercise they enjoy, whether it's a team sport, karate, dancing, biking or just taking a walk with parents. He says that, ideally, exercise should be a pleasant habit, rather than a difficult chore. (And don't forget to drink water while working out.)

"Working out and exercise should be fun, part of one's daily life," says Patterson, adding that kids never should do activities that cause pain or discomfort.

Kids who think they are overweight can talk with a doctor or nutritionist about safe ways to reduce. For some people, such as pre-teens and teens who get taller, the weight problem goes away on its own.

"A lot of times, kids will grow into their bodies," Patterson says.

Until that happens, focus on healthy eating and being more active.


Kid Health runs the third Monday of the month. E-mail Emily Dwass at


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