Balancing Calories In and Out

About one in four kids and teens are overweight (or are at risk of being overweight). Being overweight is not a cosmetic issue. It can lead to health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stroke. Health experts generally do not recommend dieting for kids (if you are considering going on a diet, you should see a doctor or other health-care provider). However, healthy eating and learning to balance the amount of food you eat with the amount of energy you use through physical activity are healthy habits worth learning.

Foods that are high in fat and sugar - like doughnuts, cheese, French fries, ice cream, soda pop and candy - can have a lot of calories for their size. You can practically inhale some of these so called "calorie dense" foods before you feel full, and they can contribute to weight gain. Other foods - like apples, carrots, low-fat yogurt, spinach, broccoli and fish - don't have many calories for their weight. These foods fill you up with fewer calories. So when choosing a snack, remember that an entire cucumber has fewer calories than one Oreo cookie.

It's not only what people eat, but how much they eat that's important. The serving sizes at restaurants are out of control, and many restaurant meals have half a day's worth of calories or more. Studies show that the more food people are served, the more they eat. Order smaller serving sizes (the small fries instead of the large) and take some of your meal home in a doggie bag to eat later.

The calories you drink don't seem to register as well as the calories in solid food. So, when you add a 20-ounce soda to your lunch, you probably won't make up for it later by eating 250 fewer calories of solid food. If you're watching calories, cut back on soda, "juice" drinks, sweetened iced teas, sports drinks, and other liquid calories.

Being physically active is important to maintaining a healthy weight (and to preventing serious diseases that can show up when you become an adult). Health experts recommend at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day for kids and teens. But don't think of it as exercise, just think of it as fun. Rollerblade, play soccer, dance, ski, swim, play basketball, or go for a walk with a friend. Remember that activities like walking up stairs, walking the dog, shoveling snow, or cleaning your room also count as physical activity (they burn calories and are good for your health). Limit the amount of time you watch TV: watching too much TV is linked to overweight.

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