Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

Healthy weight all year around

I just opened my cable/internet bill and it has gone up to more than $120/month for the most basic plan.  That is a ridiculous price to pay for something that sucks my family out of activity and onto the couch for hours at a time.  I almost had the guts to cancel cable, but when I called the company about the increase, I think the poor guy sensed my intention.  He dropped my bill to under $100, so I will continue to have that constant lure of screen time in my home. Ugh! I have tried to limit my kids to less than 2 hours of screen time per day, but since they have different shows they want to watch, that didn’t work.  We settled on “no TV ’til the sun goes down.”  This has worked pretty well!  In the summer, they are busy with friends and outside stuff anyway, so the fact that the sun goes down 4 hours later than in the winter doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Winter is hard on kids’ health around here. Have you ever compared your child’s 800 meter run time at the beginning of the year with the end of the year?  Usually the time is worse!  There is just no way elementary school PE teachers can be expected to whip our kids in to shape when they only have them for 30 minutes once a week.  That means the school is delivering our kids back to us at 3:30 p.m. in dire need of exercise. 

According to the Surgeons General, youth should get 60 minutes of activity a day. What should we do when it’s 12 degrees out and only light for another hour and a half and there is homework to be done?  What if the kids sit down and play video games or watch TV just “for a little while”, do you think they will peel themselves away from that screen before sundown or dinner?  Not a chance. Hence, “no TV ’til the sun goes down”. Really, by default, ANYTHING else they do will be more active than watching TV.  I suggest building in exercise by signing kids up for after school activities like sports, dance, on campus Fit Kid clubs, etc. Another good way to build it in is to have kids walk home from school. We live in Montana, yes it’s cold, but it builds character (and muscles) to walk home from school.

As for nutrition, prevent kids from raiding the kitchen after school by only stocking healthy foods.  If their home food environment is 99% healthy and not that enticing, then the kids will snack on healthy foods by default–think low sugar cereal, yogurt, fruit, jerky instead of endless leftovers, ice cream, cookies, chips.  Explain to the kids that the 20 string cheeses in the fridge are to last the week.  Make them accountable for rationing them rather than letting them eat as much as they want.  An extra 250 calories per day adds up to a half pound weight gain every week.  That’s why all those sugar sweetened beverages have no place in the home when families are trying to be fit.  If parents can eliminate the tempting unhealthy foods from their home, then the family can go out for dinner on the weekend and enjoy themselves guilt-free.  How can parents expect their overweight kids to not drink the pop in the fridge and not eat the ice cream in the freezer and to ignore the chips in the pantry?  Just get it out of the house and be done with it.  Oprah and Kim Kardashian didn’t lose weight on their own.  They had trainers and cooks create a healthy controlled environment for them just like parents should for their kids.  I think this is the only way for our kids to survive winter without putting on extra pounds these days.

Don’t forget to ask your doctor where your child’s body mass index is compared to other kids. We record BMI as a percentile now just like we always have done for height, weight, and head circumference.  Sometimes seeing that chart is enough incentive for parents to get serious about cleaning up their act.  Limiting TV is a constant challenge in my house even with the sundown rule. Think of the money I would save if I got rid of cable all together!  I think I will have to stick with the status quo for now or I will have teenage mutiny on my hands.

Billings Clinic is calling on K-12th graders from Billings and the surrounding community to enter the Overcoming Obesity Video Public Service Announcement (PSA) Contest. The goal of the contest is to empower youth to come up with a message that will help curb or prevent obesity in Montana. The video entries must be 30 seconds long and will be judged on the quality of the health message, persuasiveness, and creativity. Production value will play only a minor role in the judging, so participants are encouraged to use whatever resources and equipment are available to them. The deadline for submissions to the Billings Clinic Overcoming Obesity Video PSA Contest is April 15, 2014. Hundreds of dollars in cash prizes as well as GoPro Cameras will be awarded to winners in each age category. The grand prize winner will have their PSA shown on KTVQ in May and June. Visit the contest website at The contest is sponsored by Billings Clinic, Foundation for Healthy Montanans and KTVQ.

Claire Kenamore, MD

Dr. Claire Kenamore is a Billings Clinic pediatrician and advocate for healthy children in Montana.

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