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(CNN) – September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and as kids go back to school, health authorities are asking parents to make sure their youngsters stay fit during the school season.

Over the last 40 years, obesity rates in children have skyrocketed.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, more than 23 million children and teens in the U.S., ages 2 to 19, are overweight or obese. These children are at greater risk of having heart problems, joint pain, sleep apnea, even psychological problems.

So as school starts, health officials are suggesting ways to make sure your child has a healthy school year.

During the summer many kids get out and play, but as classes begin, they tend to sit more.

Fitness experts recommend you make sure to let your children play at least 30 minutes to an hour after they get home from school.

Pack a healthy lunch, and if your kids buy lunch, stress the importance of eating a balanced meal – which most schools now provide.

Take your child to a physical to get to know they body mass index. That indicates if they are overweight.

If they’re participating in a sport, make sure they get the OK from their doctor that they’re healthy enough to play.

And, wherever possible, have your children walk to school and other activities.

Studies show kids who walk are leaner and fitter than those who take the bus or are driven everywhere.

Article Courtesy of CNN and WOIO 19 Action News

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