Image: Thomas Cobb

You’ve heard about childhood obesity so often, it’s practically background noise. From kids appearing on TV’s The Biggest Loser to the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, all the attention on the issue can be overwhelming—but your kids can get healthier with just a few simple tips.

“Fighting obesity is about activity as well as healthy eating,” says Natasha Polensek, a pediatrician who directs OHSU Doernbecher’s Healthy Lifestyles Clinic. “We use the 5-2-1-0 rule: five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, two hours or less of screen time, one hour of vigorous activity, and zero sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit juice.”

Through the clinic, sedentary kids can get a prescription for play. Doernbecher works with the Portland and Tualatin Valley parks and recreation departments to give kids access to local rec centers if doctors think they should be more active.  

On the food front, healthy eating starts in the morning. “Kids need breakfast so they don’t get too hungry and overeat at lunch,” Dr. Polensek says. Cereal is fine, plus an orange, banana, or other fruit for fiber. Other healthy habits include making fruits and vegetables half of every meal, drinking a glass of water before taking second helpings and making second helpings vegetables or fruit. 

School lunches can be challenging. “Cafeterias serve calorie-dense foods like pizza and burgers, and many schools are next to fast-food restaurants,” Dr. Polensek says. “Salad bars are great, but watch the dressings and cheeses.” 

Another healthy option is building a sandwich with lean protein, lettuce, tomato, and other vegetables. Some schools let kids carry water bottles so they can avoid sugary drinks from school stores and vending machines. A handful of almonds, loaded with protein and healthy fats, makes a good snack. 

Dr. Polensek emphasizes that improving lifestyles is the goal, rather than just losing pounds. Baby steps—a few more minutes of activity, one less sugary drink—help kids of all ages develop better habits. 

Find more tips on eating and activity at OHSU/Doernbecher Healthy Lifestyles.