Follow the “5-2-1-0” Rule for a Healthy Back to School

September 07, 2016

A Guest Article from our Partners at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia

By Leah Scherzer, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Drexel University College of Medicine; Attending Pediatrician, Center for the Urban Child, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

Now that school is back in session, it’s important to get children to eat right so they can do well in school.  September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.  According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in every 5 (17%) children in the United States is obese.  

At St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, I recommend that children follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines of “5-2-1-0.” These recommendations are easy to remember.

All children should aim to eat “5” fruits and vegetables a day; spend “2”hours or less each day in front of a screen (including TVs, tablets, telephones); exercise or play actively for “1” hour daily; and drink “0” (zero) sweet beverages (including juice, sports drinks, ice tea, soda).  

Recognizing National Childhood Obesity Awareness month in September is important, but these tips should encourage you and your family to lead a healthy lifestyle year-round.


One of the most important suggestions is to avoid sugar, juice, sweets and drinks packed with artificial flavorings. If children are eating school lunch, you should encourage them to make healthy choices whenever possible.  For example, they should drink plain low-fat milk instead of chocolate or strawberry milk.  If you are packing your child’s lunch, try to avoid processed foods.  Instead, go for peanut butter and jelly, a cheese sandwich, a carton of yogurt, or make a sandwich of leftover baked or grilled meat rather than deli meats. Fresh fruits are always better than fruit snacks or fruit cups.  Instead of chips, try baked chips, kale chips, or baby carrots. Having fresh fruits and vegetables available for snacks and not purchasing cookies and chips for the house will help everyone avoid eating these tempting foods.  When shopping, try to shop on the edges of the store where the fresh fruits and vegetables are and try to avoid the impulse purchases at the ends of the aisles and checkout line.


There are numerous ways to make exercise fun for children of all ages.  Try to find things you can do as a family like walking, biking, or your own ball games.  If your child likes to dance this can be a great family activity.  Turn the music up loud and let loose.  You can take your children to the library for exercise videos.  Jumping jacks, sit-ups, jumping rope and hula hooping are all great exercises that you and your child can do both inside and out.

Screen Time

The AAP recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day. This includes tablets, computers, cell phones and any other electronic devices. Too much screen time can be harmful to your child’s health.  Make time for reading, board games or taking a trip to your local park.  This will help your child stay at a healthy weight but also will help them sleep better and perform better in school.


Getting a good night sleep helps maintain a healthy weight. Setting a regular bedtime and making sure children stop using screens within two hours of bedtime are some of the best ways to make sure children get enough sleep each night. Children age 6 to 13 need roughly 9 to 11 hours of sleep, and teens age 14 to 17 need roughly 8 to 10 hours of sleep.