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Want a Healthier Life for You and Your Kids? Take the Fit Family Challenge!

Dr. Antwon Chavis is a general pediatrician practicing in Portland, Oregon. Antwon has a wide array of interests, such as adolescent medicine, mental health, and working with children and adolescents with behavioral or developmental issues. He and his partner, Nate, are proud fathers of two cats, Doc and Blerg.

In the United States we continue to see a rise in childhood obesity and the negative health outcomes that follow. I have taken care of a variety of kids (school-aged and teenagers) who struggle with weight and health, and I have seen families respond in two ways: blame or action. The kids who do better tend to have families who support their efforts to get healthy. They work together, as a family, to make improvements. (I said “get healthy” intentionally, because losing weight is not always the goal.)

I want to challenge the dads and families of our community to take up a Fit Family Challenge. Entering into a new year is a great opportunity to encourage your family to live a little healthier, and a challenge encourages motivation, friendly competition and success. And it’s fun!

Here are some things to keep in mind:

The Fit Family Challenge includes everyone!

Sit down as a family before starting and discuss what being “healthy” means, and brainstorm challenge ideas. People are more likely to cooperate if they feel like they’re contributing, and I bet your kids have some great ideas! If you can’t agree on one goal, set individual goals instead.

There is more to health than weight.

For example: getting enough sleep, eating more vegetables than junk food, watching less TV and playing more, or reading more books. It’s all about attitude! Creating a culture within the family that values being health-conscious takes time and effort, but the rewards are monumental.

The goal is not just weight loss alone.

And regarding weight, children should maintain, not lose. The developing brain needs calories, as do active and growing muscles and bones. If children enter into adolescence being told they need to lose weight, it can create problems with body image, self-esteem and confidence. Instead, help them enter adolescence believing their family values making healthy choices. That should be the goal of a Fit Family Challenge, not just weight loss!

Create a visible plan.

Make clear and achievable goals, and set rules. As a group, describe exactly what you hope to achieve in order to make your challenge successful. Make a chart or spreadsheet with every family member’s name. Make sure the kids help decorate! Keep track of and discuss your progress each day.

Brief is better.

Create a short challenge period for better engagement. If it is too long, you may lose interest, but short challenges may end before your family sees a change. I’d recommend between 21 and 90 days.

Keep it positive.

The goal is to be healthier as a family and to have fun. Be encouraging and cheer on each other’s success. Healthy teasing is appropriate for some, but negative attitudes and words are not allowed.

Pick a prize.

How will you reward success? Your family may like individual prizes while others prefer to reward the family as a whole. Consider small rewards along the way to stay motivated. Just no food-based rewards, to avoid teaching your kids to eat and snack when good things happen.

Discuss success and keep trying.

On your last day, sit down together and talk about the experience. What did you like? What was hard? How can it be better next time? Then, set new goals and activities and start your challenge again!

Challenge Ideas:

  • Find and cook a new recipe twice a week. Cooking as a family teaches older children how to make good choices, which is an added benefit!
  • If your kids play sports, you should join a league too! Explore your community for adult opportunities. They cater to all skill levels, and the sports are getting pretty diverse. If you haven’t played kickball with other grown-ups, you’re missing out!
  • Drink several glasses of water a day.
  • Read a book instead of watching TV, if only for one to two hours per week.
  • Encourage everyone in the family to use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Play outside as a family for 30 minutes, three times a week.
  • Sleep at least 7 hours each night.
  • Family destination challenge: How far is your house from your nearby amusement park? Log those miles as a family! This can be from walking, biking, or running. Have everyone log their miles and see how long it takes to get to your destination. If you get there by your deadline, plan a trip there to celebrate!
  • Exercise three to four times a week.
  • How many days in a row can you go without soda?
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