Healthy weights for tweens, kids 8 to 12

August 14, 2002|BY Lynn Little

The "tween generation" is getting a lot of attention these days. Kids 8 to 12 are the focus of several recently announced health campaigns. Medical groups, government agencies, soft drink companies and snack manufacturers are all targeting tweens with food and fitness messages.

Health experts are concerned about the stage between childhood and adolescence for many reasons. When it comes to food and fitness, tween trends are going in the wrong direction.

Numerous studies have documented the problems in tween nutrition and physical activity:

The rates of overweight and obese children ages 8 to 12 are rising dramatically.

Many tweens are beginning to follow fad diets and to develop eating disorders.

Intakes of vital nutrients, like iron and calcium, are dropping just when kids need them most.

Kids are spending more time with TVs and computers, and less time in active play.

More tweens are being diagnosed with risk factors for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.


Reversing these negative trends will require action by families, schools and communities. Role models are very important at this age. Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and youth leaders can influence tweens by making healthy choices for themselves.

To grow strong bodies and smart brains, kids need easy access to fun foods that are packed with power nutrients. All of us can help tweens have a healthy future. We can provide nutritious food choices in our homes and at group functions. We can also support healthy school policies, like more milk and water in vending machines and reduced access to soft drinks.

Parents can help by:

  • Resisting the parental desire to nag. All children need to feel love and acceptance. Overweight kids need to know that your love is not conditional on their weight loss. Nagging children about weight often has the opposite of its desired effect. Respect your tween's desire to be healthy and find them the help that they want.

  • Being the role model that your kids need. Research shows that children really do as they see, not as they hear. To help your tween move toward a healthy weight, avoid fad diets and weight loss schemes; enjoy balanced choices from the Food Guide Pyramid; and make physical activity one of your family's most important values.

  • Offering regular family meals and make nutrition-to-go available. Today's tweens lead busy lives and they may not be around at mealtimes. Stock up on grab-and-go foods like string cheese, yogurt, bananas, bagels and beef jerky. Make family meals as convenient, tasty and stress-free as possible so tweens will want to be there.

For more information: Check out books by Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, CICSW, "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family" (1999) and "How to Get Your Kid to Eat" (1987), especially chapter 12 on The Individualistic Teenager.

Programs available online that could be of interest to tweens include:

  • BAM! Body and Mind (answers to kids' health questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

  • - healthy eating and active living tips from a coalition of nutrition and health organizations,

  • VERB - It's what you do (campaign to promote physical activity also spearheaded by the CDC)

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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