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After navigating having a baby, raising an infant to a toddler, and sending your preschooler off to school for the first time, what next?

Do you focus on your child’s education confident they will receive all of the support they need? Is there potentially something missing? Does your own personal experience as a child and navigating life as a young adult make you seek a better balance for your child? Are there habits, if learned as a child, which could make life as a teenager and young adult so much more empowering?

As parents and medical experts, we realize there are several areas that you probably worry about the most with regards’ to your children’s health: physical activity, mental health, diet, and sleep.

Physical activity

Data globally is inconsistent, but nearly half of children do not achieve the WHO recommended amount of daily exercise, which is 60 minutes of health enhancing physical activity. This statistic becomes even more adverse for teenagers and particularly girls during their teenage years. COVID-19 has made things even worse, with a recent study showing less than 1 in 10 adolescents in the United States getting the recommended levels of physical activity.

The health benefits of physical activity are well recognized, including reduced risks for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and various types of cancer (1) positive effects on mental health, by reducing depression (2), stress reactions and possibly delaying the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia (3). Additionally, physical activity is a key determinant of how much energy children use, which supports burning of calories and a healthy body weight.

Mental Health

The WHO sets out the following startling facts about adolescent mental health:

  • Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years.
  • Half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated(1).
  • Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.
  • Suicide is the fourth most prevalent cause of death in 15-19-year-olds.
  • Failing to address adolescent mental health conditions has impacts in adulthood, affecting both physical and mental health and preventing affected adults from leading fulfilling lives.

Child development, particularly during puberty, is rapid, with significant stressors due to emotions, friends, and anxiety about real and perceived pressure to perform and conform. Hence, it is incredibly important for children to learn good mental health habits, so they can cope with their emotions, risk taking, and reactions to events in their lives.

Energy from Food and Sleep

The energy our kids need is derived from the food they consume and the amount of sleep they get on a daily basis. Processed foods full of preservatives, sugars and other unhealthy ingredients have led to a global epidemic of obesity and poor health in kids. Children these days also face challenges getting enough sleep, due to a number of factors such as early start school schedules or the use of digital devices at night.

The energy our children have day to day is critical for them to perform at school, learn new physical skills, and cope mentally with stress. Good sleep also increases their neural plasticity, which in turn helps them retain new knowledge in school, develop good interpersonal relationship skills, and learn beneficial habits.

The Big Picture

Combined, good habits related to physical activity, mental wellness, sleep, and nutrition significantly assist children (and adults) have higher energy and concentration levels. This improves school results, makes them more active around the home, and gives them the ability to develop better friendships with peers and their adult support network.

(1) Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases 2013–2020. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2013 (http://apps., accessed September 2018).

(2) Harvey SB, Overland S, Hatch SL, Wessely S, Mykletun A, Hotopf M. Exercise and the prevention of depression: results of the HUNT cohort study. Am J Psychiatry. 2018;175(1):28-36.

(3) Hallal PC, Andersen LB, Bull FC, Guthold R, Haskell W, Ekelund U, et al. Global physical activity levels: surveillance progress, pitfalls, and prospects. Lancet. 2012;380(9838):247-57.