What every family can do: The 5-2-1-0 rule

Every child and every adult has a healthy body shape that is just right for them. However in today’s world it is easy for us all to gain excessive, unhealthy weight. Weight gain occurs when energy intake (food and drink) is more than the energy burned off (physical activity). The best thing you can do to help your child achieve the healthy body that is just right for them is by creating healthy habits for the entire family.

5 or more servings of vegetables and fruit per day

Vegetables and fruits contain many nutrients that a child’s body needs and they should be taking the place of high calorie, nutrient poor, food from a child’s daily food menu. Children who eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits a day are significantly less likely to develop overweight and obesity than children who eat less than 3 servings per day. Additional evidence supports the linkage between high vegetables and fruits consumption and decreased cancers, diabetes and heart disease rates. Ensure your child eats vegetables and fruits at every meal and as a snack. Dinners can begin with a salad, a clear vegetable broth soup or raw vegetables in order to fill everyone up before the main course.

What else can a family do to prevent childhood obesity?

Become knowledgeable and take time

Learn about healthy eating and active living and take the time to help your child achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. No parent can follow all of these tips every day. Do what you can do when you are able.

Eat breakfast together

Studies show that students who eat breakfast have increased test scores, improved attendance, reduced tardiness, and better academic, behavioural and emotional functioning. However, if your child is not hungry in the morning, ensure they bring a healthy snack to school to enjoy in the morning once they become hungry. Snacks could include vegetables and/or protein choices such as unsweetened full fat yogurt, cheese, roasted chick peas or minimally processed meats.

Eat most meals at home and eat as many meals as possible together

Studies show that the more meals a family eats meals together, the more likely the children are to eat fruit, vegetables, whole  grains and calcium-rich food and beverages. Cooking whole foods and eating at home is highly protective against excessive weight gain and contributes to regaining a healthy weigh for those off a healthy weight trajectory. Children and youth who eat at home are also more likely to feel connected to their family. They do better in school and are half as likely to run into problems with substance abuse as teenagers.

Avoid foods with added sugar

Over 2/3 of processed foods have added sugar and these foods should be kept to a minimum as their consumption is highly correlated with excess weight gain.

Minimize the intake of refined grain

Refined grains such as white flour products, regular pasta, white rice and quick cooking oatmeal are foods which rapidly breakdown into simple sugars and are associated with excessive weight gain. Families should try to maximize their intake of whole grain/rice products and limit meals featuring refined grains to once weekly.

Portion sizes should be age appropriate

Avoid ordering super-sized foods and serve appropriate sized portions at mealtimes.

Try not to eat between dinner and breakfast

Eating after dinner is associated with excess weight gain and often these snacks are born of habit, not hunger. Unless a child or youth has been exercising vigorously, supper should tide them over until breakfast.  If your child is hungry before bed it may be a sign that dinner was too high in simple carbohydrates that did not sustain a sense of fullness. Try adding more protein and/or fat to supper. If an evening snack is given, aim for fruit or vegetables.

Ensure adequate sleep

Most North Americans are sleep deprived and children and youth are no exception. Lack of sleep is associated with unhealthy weight gain in infants, children and youth.  Most preteens should be getting 10-12 hours of sleep per night. Most teens need 8-10 hours. If your child or teen has a hard time getting up in the morning, or sleeps in very late on weekends, they are likely in need of more sleep.

Lead by example

Children will do what you do, not what you say. Caregivers should model healthy lifestyle choices such as exercising regularly and eating healthy food. Children with overweight parents are less active, and are more likely to prefer sedentary activities. Studies show that older children are twice as likely to be active if their mothers are active and are almost six times more likely to be active if both parents are active.

Be authoritative

Set the standards for meals, snacks and physical activity and do not hesitate to limit access to screen time and sugar sweetened beverages. Encourage children to drink more water. Keep healthy snacks where children can easily find them.

Do not set your child up for failure

Don’t stock the kitchen with sugar sweetened beverages and high caloric snack food — clear the house of junk food and junk drinks.

Start early

Strive for a healthy pregnancy and avoid excess or insufficient weight gain. Both overweight and underweight infants are at risk for obesity problems later in life.


This is modestly protective against the development of overweight or obesity.

A note about diets
Placing a normal or overweight child on a diet is known to harm a child’s health. It can affect their normal growth and development, and damage their delicate self-esteem. Focusing on a child’s weight can stigmatize a child and may cause further over-eating. Focus on the child, not their weight. Regardless of your child’s weight or shape, help them to love and respect themselves by praising their skills and strengths.
Family involvement in healthy lifestyle change provides an overweight child with emotional support, and benefits the health of each family member.

  • Talk to your children and support them regardless of their size or shape
  • Discourage negative talk about body weight
  • The role of parents and other caregivers is to put whole, healthy food on the table and let your child dictate how much they want to eat
  • If we get the lifestyle habits right, we will get the weight that’s right for us

LIVE 5-2-1-0!

LIVE 5-2-1-0!


or more veggies and fruit per day


no more than two hours of screen time a day

hour of physical activity or more per day


no sugary drinks