NEW YORK (WLNY) — Childhood obesity is an epidemic in our country.

According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity among kids has more than tripled since 1980.

Nearly 20 percent of all children age six to 11 are obese, and a recent ad by Coca-Cola brought more attention to the issue. The commercial highlights the company’s low and no-calorie drinks. But the fact is, sugary drinks like soda are a big part of the obesity issue in America.

Abby Ellin, editor-at-large for and author of the book Teenage Waistland, joined us to discuss the issue and offer eight tips for families to fight obesity together.

1. Talk as a family about why choosing healthy food is important to your kids well-being

As kids reach for soda and sugary snacks to soothe themselves and quench their appetites, they may not be aware that the empty calories add up to health consequences. Soda is loaded with sugar (about 13 teaspoons per can) artificial sweeteners, caffeine and empty calories (about 150 in a regular soda) and has been linked to diabetes.  Choosing foods that are fuel for the body, rather than focusing on dieting is critical to health.   Have your kids make their own whole foods grocery lists and take them with you to the grocery store.
2. Make exercise part of your family’s day, every day

According to the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness, children and teens need 60 minutes of activity each day for their health. Exercise can be done in as little as 15 minute increments. Walk the dog as a family, kick the soccer ball in the drive-way

3. Compliment what your kids do well

In our society we tend to focus on the poor choices our kids/teens make instead of focusing on what they do well. When your teen reaches for that apple instead of a cookie after school, comment on how that is a smart choice for their health. Join in when your teen goes for a bike ride or walks the perimeter of the shopping mall. Participating in health together with a positive mental attitude matters.

4. Focus on a positive body image for your teen

In the teen years, we can feel self-conscious as our bodies grow and change. Dieting becomes more problematic as teens may focus on limiting calories instead of eating whole foods for fuel and nutrition. Help your teen develop a positive body image by discussing that all body types are fine, we just want to develop the healthiest body for our own style and body type.

5. Skip the Fat Talk

Sometimes as parents, we talk a lot about fat and not enough about health. Fat Talk around the dinner table or with our friends models for our children and teens a lack of respect for ourselves and our bodies. Skip the comments like Im fat, I feel guilty cause I ate some cake, and practice sentences like My body enjoyed that healthy meal, Its great to have a little cake, I just stop at one piece.

6. Limit sedentary screen time and make screen time active

The TV, video games and time spent in front of the computer can be relaxing and even addicting. Keep an eye on how much screen time you and your kids are spending in your own home. After an hour of TV or computer time, get up and dance, do a few sit-ups, take a walk or play on the trampoline for a few minutes.  Suggest or even joy your kids in playing Xbox or Wii games that involve vigorous movement such as Just Dance and Wipe Out.

7. Sit down for family dinner and prepare dinner together

Research shows that families who dine together experience less teen obesity, teen pregnancy and addiction. Take the time to sit and eat as a family for 30 minutes or so each day. If dinner is a challenge due to sports and activities, sit down for breakfast. That time spent as a family adds up to better relationships and lifestyle choices.

8. Eat less fast food

Fast food may be convenient in the short-run but disastrous in the long-run. Start by simply observing how often you all stop for fast food. A typical fast-food meal is 800-1,000 calories, about half of what your child or teen needs each day. A teen with moderate fitness activity who weighs 125 pounds needs 1,750 calories per day.
So if you do need the convenience, stop at places that offer salads (without the dressing or dressing on the side; salsa and Greek yogurt are good dressings) or sandwiches with veggies.

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