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Last year, according to a study from the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, nearly 18 percent of Alaska students were considered overweight, an increase over 2013. Obese children and adults are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers. Each year, obesity-related medical expenses cost an estimated $459 million in Alaska.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and thread encourages you to be a leader in taking the first steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Whether at home or in the classroom, follow these tips to help you and your children establish healthier habits.

  1. Choose nutritious foods and beverages

We all know that eating right plays an important role in staying healthy, but busy schedules and stress can make it difficult to choose between healthy foods and fast, convenient, and inexpensive options.

Limit fried foods and instead serve a fruit and/or a vegetable at every meal. Additionally, serve a glass of water instead of juices, sports drinks, or sodas, which can have as much as ten teaspoons of sugar in each 12-ounce serving.

  1. Play every day

Physical activity is important for young children in developing motor skills and building stronger bones. Preschoolers need two or more hours of active play time every day. Toddlers should have at least one hour of active play time while babies need short periods of supervised “tummy time.”

Studies have also shown that children who are active tend to have fewer behavioral issues, reduced stress, increased attention spans, and healthier brain development.

  1. Limit screen time

Support your child’s social and physical development by reducing the amount of time spent in front of a TV, computer, video game, tablet, phone, or other devices. Preschoolers should have no more than two hours of screen time per day at home, and no more than 30 minutes per week—or none— while in child care. Avoid any screen time for infants and toddlers.

When you reduce screen time, you free up more time for physical activity, reading, exploring, and playing. In order to build strong brains, young children need interactions with consistent, caring adults—something you just can’t get from a digital device.

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