Boost your child's health

The Doctors - | 10/29/2010, 7 a.m.


Certain health strategies take time: Your kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day and nine to 14 hours of sleep, depending on their age. But imagine you could help reduce your son's risk of obesity or protect your daughter's smile in the same amount of time it takes for you to warm up your car or pay for a cup of coffee. Some of the latest research shows just that. Here are eight quick -- and seemingly inconsequential -- tips that can boost your kids' health in a few minutes flat.

Hide the clicker.

Health boost: Improve diet, exercise and even grades.

What's the harm in plopping your toddler in front of his favorite cartoon marathon? You'll see when he hits grade school, according to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Researchers found that for every extra hour 2-year-olds spend watching TV, by fourth grade, they spend less time doing physical activity on weekends, consume more soft drinks and snacks, and show a 5% increase in body mass index (BMI). They also are less engaged in the classroom and have worse grades in math. Turning off the tube in early childhood may help cut down on excessive media consumption among school-aged children, as well. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 8- to 18-year-olds average 4.5 hours of TV time and 7.5 hours of total media use every day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children watch no more than one to two hours of "quality" TV a day.

Use a good fluoride toothpaste.

Health boost: Prevent tooth decay.

Tooth decay has a greater effect on children in the USA than any other chronic infectious disease: It affects one in four between ages 2 and 5 and half of kids ages 12 to 15. Daily exposure to small amounts of fluoride reduces the risk of tooth decay -- fluoride helps by removing plaque and strengthening tooth enamel. Once your little one is preschool age, have her brush twice a day with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste -- too much fluoride can cause permanent stains on teeth. (Any toothpaste with the American Dental Association seal contains fluoride.) For younger children, just use a soft toothbrush. Another way to get fluoride: Drink water that contains it. If your tap water is not fluoridated, or if your family uses purified water, talk to your dentist; he may suggest supplements or other solutions.

Say goodnight at the same time every night.

Health boost: Reduce the risk of obesity.

Researchers from the University of California and University of Washington found that kids ages 4 and under who get less than 10 hours of sleep a night are nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese five years later; for those ages 4 to 13, shortened sleep means a higher risk of shifting from normal to overweight or overweight to obese. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children 1 to 3 years old need 12 to 14 hours a night; 3- to 5-year-olds, 11 to 13 hours; 5- to 10-year-olds, 10 to 11 hours; and teens, 8.5 to 9.25 hours. (Adults need seven to nine hours.) A new study in the journal Sleep also found that teenagers who get less than eight hours a night are more likely to consume fatty foods and snacks that put them at risk for obesity.