New app Choose Healthier wants to help families be healthier

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We all want our kids to be healthier, right? To eat well, exercise every day, get plenty of sleep. Yet, we’re not always successful.

Dr. Stephen Pont, medical director of the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity and Austin Independent School District Student Health Services, give us these facts: One-third of Austin kids are obese. In some areas of town, particularly Northeast Austin around Rundberg Lane and Southeast Austin around Dove Springs, two-thirds of the Austin ISD students are obese. One third of the kids born in 2000 are expected to be diagnosed with Type II diabetes in their lifetimes.

Monday the American Academy of Pediatrics introduced new guidelines, replacing the 2003 guidelines, about how pediatricians should talk to families about healthy living habits. Many of the recommendations are things we know we should be doing: avoiding sugary drinks including sodas and juice, eating more fruits and vegetables, getting 60 minutes of exercise a day, getting more sleep and spending less time looking at screens. Read those here.

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Today It’s Time Texas launched its free Choose Healthier mobile app for Apple and Android as well as its website. It’s the Austin-based company’s second app. The first is Teach Healthier, which gives teachers ideas for bringing more health and nutrition lessons into the school day.

IMG_2180Choose Healthier connects families to activities happening around them. I logged on and found that near me a local recreation center was offering a free Kokoro Judo class for kids, H-E-B was doing an H-E-B Buddy Cooking Class at one store and a grocery store tour at another. I could take a cardio dance class or do a rowing workout. I could also do yoga or get a massage.

Choose Healthier app allows you to find activities around you.

Choose Healthier app allows you to find activities around you.

The app is funded by partners Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, H-E-B, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and RGK Foundation.

The app launched with 470 local fitness, nutrition and wellness businesses submitting information about almost 70,000 healthy activities offered. The goal is to have more than 1,000 local businesses and 100,000 activities a year from now and to spread other areas of Texas.

“Dr. Pont and I have been talking about the need for this for a long time,” says It’s Time Texas founder and director Baker Harrell. People might have known about some of the activities and resources available in Austin, but, “there was no one-stop shop to access them.”

For H-E-B, it’s a way to get the message out that the stores have registered dietitians that can help families learn to shop the store healthier or cooking classes for kids. “We want to be a provider of nutritional resources as well as a place for low-cost shopping,” says Julie Bedingfield, public affairs health and wellness for H-E-B. The grocer also wants to see Choose Healthier expand beyond Austin to Houston, San Antonio and the Valley.

Pont meets families struggling with what to do to be healthier every day in the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity at Dell Children’s. The app is one way to help families find more activities in their community and to encourage healthier lifestyles.

The pediatrician’s academy’s recommendations reminds pediatricians about best practices and how to encourage patients instead of scolding, he says. “It’s a delicate balance.” Talking to patients about nutrition has not been something that pediatricians typically have been trained to do.

He likes to start with picking one thing families can change as a family. It could be removing the sugary drinks and starting first with diet drinks and then moving to drinking water. It could be eating your fruit instead of drinking them in juice.

He encourages parents to be as healthy as possible. “The kids will follow,” he says. “Even teenagers are still watching.”

Families also have to do it together, Pont says. Even if there is one kid with a healthy body mass index and one with an unhealthy body mass index, both should be following the same healthy lifestyle because bad habits do catch up with kids later in life.

Pont always encourages families to set goals that are attainable for the long-term and don’t feel too restrictive. It could just be using the Choose Healthier app to find a fitness activity the family can do together or attending a healthy cooking class to get excited about eating vegetables.

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