Five simple steps to healthy kids

It's always a good time to motivate kids to get off the couch and encourage them to be active.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® Program is here to do just that. It's the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children's public education message to promote healthy lifestyles for families. The basics of the program are:

• 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day

• 4 servings of water a day

• 3 servings of low-fat dairy a day

• 2 or less hours of recreational screen time a day

• 1 or more hours of physical activity a day

Dr. Rebecca Unger, a pediatrician at Northwestern Children's Practice, who has a special interest in prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, was involved in the initial development of the 5-4-3-2-1 Go! message. It has been around since 2004 and promotes healthy lifestyle goals that are simple and easy to share with families.

"When developing the message, we intentionally focused on positive actions parents or caregivers can take when influencing their child to lead a healthy lifestyle," said Unger, who also is on staff at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

"We encourage families to drink water or low-fat milk, and limit sugary beverages as much as possible," Unger said. "Parents may think of fruit juice or sports drinks as healthy, but they are packed with sugar and calories. Sports drinks, for example, can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities to replace electrolytes, but in most cases they are unnecessary."

Screen out the screen time

Screen time is a major issue for children and trying to pry them away from their video games and smartphones to go outdoors or to be active can be difficult.

"Parents need to remember that the time their child spends on their smartphones and playing video games means fewer calories burned and extra weight gained," said Unger, referencing one of the key messages in 5-4-3-2-1 Go!

What's more, screens (television, computer, phones) are a prime way that food and beverage companies market to kids - without their parents even knowing, she said.

Unger explains that when she works with patients, she doesn't focus on children being overweight, but instead discusses general fitness goals for the entire family.

Staying healthy and active is important for all kids, at all weights.

"It is important to keep in mind that 5-4-3-2-1 Go! is for everyone and every little bit helps," said Unger. "A 10-minute walk might not seem like much, but it still benefits the person. In the end, everything adds up."

This summer, CLOCC partnered with some of the Chicago Park District's summer camps to promote the healthy lifestyle message, 5-4-3-2-1 Go! to hundreds of Chicago children. The partnership was made possible by Kohl's Cares, which donated $1.1 million to Lurie Children's over two years to develop a comprehensive multilevel health and wellness initiative focused on three Chicago communities - Englewood, Rogers Park and Pilsen.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital. For additional information, visit

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