I am often asked about childhood obesity. I have friends who worry about their children and their eating habits. I’m sure you know that childhood obesity is a huge problem in our country. America is ‘obesogenic’ with an environment that promotes unhealthy foods and discourages physical activity. I often see a parent behind their cell phone with a child behind their Nintendo DS. This was not a scene 30 years ago yet the norm today. High fat, high calorie food is at every corner. The number of obese children has more than tripled in the past 30 years since I was a child.
I am glad that parents are concerned. I believe there are things we need to do as parents to promote healthy eating and physical activity with youth today. I struggled with my weight as a teenager, and I know how painful it was to be overweight as a child. Children are learning habits that they will have for a lifetime. Making healthy lifestyles a priority in your household will impact your child for a lifetime.
Here are some tips I have to you as parents:
- Set a good example. Eat healthy foods around your children. Do not expect your child to eat only healthy foods when you sit around snacking on chips and cheese. Children are growing and need to eat healthy, but so do you. Kids watch everything we do…believe me they are watching what you put in your mouth.
- Be active together. Exercise regularly and include your kids in your exercise programs. Noah and I run together. Lily and I ride bikes and flip on the monkey bar together (ok I can’t really do any flips anymore, but you get the idea). If you expect your child to exercise then you need to join them.
- Do not include your family on drastic lifestyle changes. People often go to extreme measures to lose weight and take their family with them. Do not take all treats away from your child when you are on a fad diet and then add them all back after you give up on the diet. This kind of message is confusing to children.
- Talk positively about yourself and your children. If your child does have an issue with his or her weight, do not make comments about it. Make only positive comments about your own physique as well. Attitude is part of the battle and having a positive self image will help your children have the same.
- Treats are ok to have. Portion control and moderation is my primary message on this blog. Your children need to learn how to balance birthday cake with fruits and vegetables. Taking all treats away from your children can result in an adult who never learned moderation. I think children are exposed to way too many treats at school parties, birthday parties, and family cookouts, but treats are apart of life and can be included in a healthy diet.
- Stay informed. Have you read what is served at breakfast and lunch at schools? Know what your kids are getting for their main meals and make sack lunches when needed. Teach your children about the importance of fiber, a healthy breakfast, and appropriate portions. I was eating lunch out with friends when Lily picked up a chip and asked, “Does this have fiber?” That’s my girl.
- Include more fiber in your child’s diet. A rule of thumb for fiber is the child’s age plus 10. A 5 year old should consume 15 grams of fiber per day. Most Americans only consume 9 grams of fiber/day. I will not buy a cereal without at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and my kids know it. Children often enjoy whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, beans, hummus, fruits, and veggies.
- If you need to make changes, make gradual changes. Include your children on some of the choices. Point out 3 healthy cereal options and let them pick the one they want. Kids like to have some control. If your children are involved then they will be more apt to accept new foods.
I believe food should be enjoyed and not feared. I believe exercise should be fun and not torture. If you live life in a way that embraces these beliefs then your children will too.