Making healthy choices for your kids
Taking a look at the data over the past 50 years we can see that the percentage of overweight or obese children used to be less than 5 percent. Through the years, that percentage has continued to climb to the alarming rate of over 33 percent in 2010.
Health and wellness professionals have been warning us about this trend for decades. Yet we still see school districts limiting physical education and allowing children access to sugary, low/no nutrient foods at school.
Because eating and exercise habits are often established in childhood, overweight children will typically become overweight/obese adults. What are the consequences? Disease. Every kind of disease — arthritis, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, infertility, respiratory disorders and stroke.
As parents, I believe we can agree that this is not the kind of future we want for our children. We all want our kids to grow up to be healthy, well-balanced adults. As part of that desire, we want to make the best choices for our kids. However, too often the information we see or hear is confusing at best and often misleading to say the least. Busy parents need simple, basic, no-frills guidelines that will put our children on the right path to health, happiness and well-being. Below I have listed five basic guidelines to help set a framework for making positive choices for your child’s health and wellness.
We all need to move more. Kids really need to move. Movement sends oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Unfortunately, movement has been teased out of our daily lives. Most schools do not have daily physical education. Many have even reduced recess. Because many households in America require two working parents, children may not have access to after-school play or sports. The days of “pick up baseball” in the sand lot are long gone. What can you do?
- Get involved at your child’s school. Find out how much movement your child gets during the day. Encourage teachers and schools to support physical education and movement activities.
- Set an example. Do your kids see you exercising? Try exercising together. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Go to the park and swing, slide and play games. Try jumping rope or dancing. The human body thrives on the joy of movement. This is a chance to spend time with your kids, have fun, and do something incredibly healthy for everyone.
Reduce sweet stuff
Generally, if it is sweet use it in moderation — or not at all. This is true whether the sweetness comes from sugar, juices, fruit, honey or artificial sweeteners. As a basic guideline — if it is sweet — be suspicious. We are learning there is an addictive quality to sweet-tasting foods. The affect these foods have on the brain leads us to want or even crave more food. Unfortunately, as parents we have to be super sleuths. Sugar and various forms of sweet have been snuck into everything from spaghetti sauce to peanut butter. Read labels. Teach your kids to read labels. Help your kids learn that food can taste good without added sweetness.
Beware of “natural”
Often we are drawn in by marketing claims that certain foods are “healthy” or “natural”. Beware! Many, many foods are natural — meaning they occur in nature. Sugar is natural. High fructose corn syrup is natural. Arsenic is natural for that matter, but we don’t want it in our food. We have also been led to believe that certain types of foods or products are better than others. Yogurt for example conjures up images of healthy kids with health conscious families and happy cows. Most yogurts however are full of sweeteners and additives, particularly when offered by fast food chains and restaurants.
Good food, bad food
Don’t assume that purchasing foods from “high-end stores” such as Whole Foods or Starbucks makes for a better choice for your family than the chain grocery store or McDonalds. Nutritional garbage foods with empty calories and misleading serving sizes are abundant everywhere.
Calories are calories
While it is true that 100 calories of fresh vegetables and lean protein is better for your child than 100 calories of starchy or sugary foods, calories still count. Too many calories — even from healthy food — can lead to weight gain. Childhood is the best time to learn about appropriate serving sizes. This is also an ideal time to talk with your kids about hunger. Are they really hungry? Maybe they are thirsty instead. Avoid the “eat everything on your plate” concept and teach your kids to identify when they are full and satisfied with their meal.
As parents we are constantly faced with making challenging decisions about what is best for our kids. When it comes to health and well-being, we have a tremendous and often overwhelming responsibility. However, we can reduce this to a two-pronged approach.
- Be informed — read labels and ask questions.
- Be an example for your children. As hard as it is to believe sometimes, your children watch, listen and learn from their greatest teacher — you.