When families work together, healthy diet and exercise become easier for overweight children.

In a world filled with busy lives, fast food and entertainment at our fingertips, it’s easy to understand how individuals could settle into a sedentary lifestyle. Those pitfalls aren’t limited to the adult population, as many reports show that childhood obesity rates have quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2012 that more than one-third of children and adolescents in America were overweight or obese. As entertainment and socialization for kids shift from running around the neighborhood to surfing the Internet, fewer children are getting the physical activity that was the norm a generation ago.

Randy Clark, an exercise physiologist and manager of the University of Wisconsin Pediatric Fitness Clinic, says a reliance on fast foods and busy families also contributes to children’s unhealthy lifestyles. Clark says their program, which serves children between the ages of 5 and 18, uses diet, technology and good old-fashioned fun to get their patients motivated to move and to take back their health.

“There are pretty significant hazards to having kids be this sedentary this young. We’re seeing weight gain, orthopedic problems, all the things you’d expect with cardiovascular disease. But it’s really frightening when you see these kids that are 12 years old, which is the average age of our patients, who are really at risk,” Clark says. “In fact, research now suggests this is the first generation in history with a shorter lifespan than their parents, which is pretty remarkable considering all the medical advances that have been made.”

One thing is certain among the experts: It takes the whole family working together to recognize there is a problem and to take the proper steps to right the situation. By adjusting diet and incorporating exercise into the family’s routine, both attitudes and bodies can start to transform and become healthier.

Starting on the road to recovery is as easy as opening your front door. Begin by taking a simple 30-minute walk together as a family, several times a week, and get your children involved in grocery shopping for the week.

“Eating as a family is highly recommended by our nutritionists. I really think that a parent role model is everything to these kids. If the parent exhibits a certain behavior, the child is likely to mimic it,” Clark says. “So if the parent is active and tries to be a part of the fun, even if it’s just walking the dog, those kids are like little sponges. They watch those parents and they end up like those parents. We all need to be reminded of that occasionally.”

Those same game systems that can contribute to inactivity can also lead children to become more active. Through interactive dancing, exercise and fitness games children are reintroduced to exercise with an experience they are comfortable with. By working together as a family, and putting fun back into movement, children can also become more comfortable exercising around their peers at school.

Here are a few tips from letsmove.gov to get the family moving:

  • Play with toys that encourage physical activity like balls, kites and jump ropes
  • Limit TV time and remove the TV from a child’s room
  • Walk together after a meal
  • Make a game of doing exercises during TV commercials
  • Work together on a meal plan and let the children help shop for and prepare the food