HEALTHY CHOICES, HEALTHY LIFESTYLES BY BARBARA B. MINTZ, MS, RD
As parents you are helping your children learn a life skill that they will take into their adulthood, keeping them healthy and well throughout the lifespan.
Good news! There is increasing evidence that obesity rates are stabilizing for adults and children. Unfortunately, the rates are still high, putting millions of Americans at risk for increased health problems. It’s disappointing to hear that rates of severe obesity are still too high in adults, and more than one-in-ten children will become obese before they reach kindergarten.
It is known that children who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for physical and socio-emotional problems. Overweight children are more likely than their peers to develop cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, hepatic steatosis (a fatty liver), sleep apnea, high cholesterol, and asthma and some types of cancer. Childhood obesity has also been linked to the premature onset of puberty. Being overweight may also be associated with being bullied, which in turn is related to poorer mental health and decreased physical activity. Other issues include decreased productivity, social stigma, high healthcare costs, and premature death in adulthood.
Given the seriousness of the health consequences associated with being overweight, and the rate of increase in the past few decades, the Surgeon General declared overweight prevalence in children and adolescents “a major public health concern.” Reducing child and adolescent obesity requires efforts by families, schools, communities, government and industry. Parents can play an important role in preventing and reducing child and adolescent obesity by promoting healthy eating through family meals, providing healthy foods in the home, limiting television watching and other sedentary behavior, and encouraging physical activity. Studies now show us that children, even infants and toddlers, consume too many high-calorie foods, too much sodium, and consume too few fruits and vegetables. This should show us the importance of teaching healthy, eating habits. And your child is never too young to begin learning this important lesson. As parents you are helping them learn a life skill that they will take into their adulthood, keeping them healthy and well throughout the lifespan.
REMEMBER THESE IMPORTANT POINTS WHEN PLANNING YOUR CHILD’S MEALS AND ACTIVITIES:
FOCUS ON LIFEStYLE CHANGES, NOT LOSING WEIGHT
Overweight and obese children and teens should reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. That’s why recommendations that focus on small, but permanent changes in eating may work better than a series of short-term changes that can’t be sustained. In treating most overweight children, the main emphasis should be to prevent weight gain above what’s appropriate for expected increases in height. For many children this may mean limited or no weight gain while they grow taller. Don’t put your child on a weightreduction diet without talking to your health-care provider. Balance between energy/calories in and energy out is the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
MAKE SNACKS HEALTHY
Limiting processed, high-fat and high-sugar or salty snacks can also help your children develop healthy eating habits.
ENCOURAGE HEALTHY EATING HABITS AND SET AN EXAMPLE
Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products. Make sure you are including low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products. Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans for protein. Watch your portion sizes. An appropriate serving of meat is about three to four ounces, or the size of a deck of cards. Growing children may want and need more, so use your judgement. Large portions of sweets and desserts are the real saboteurs of a healthy diet and health weight.
WATCH YOUR INTAKE OF PROCESSED FOODS
These are loaded with sugar, sodium and saturated fat. Eliminate sweetened beverages, including juices. These are filled with empty calories coming from simple sugars and have been noted to be one of the biggest reasons both children and adults are overweight.
STAY ACTIVE AS A FAMILY
Exercising together helps develop lifelong habits. It can help strengthen bones, decrease blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety, increase self-esteem and help with weight management. Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week, and every day if possible. WE all know that teaching by example works best because our children will “do as we do, not as we say.” Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you. It can be as easy and simple as dancing, playing hop scotch, jumping rope or just walking together. This also means limiting TV, video games or Internet time to no more than two hours a day. This doesn’t include homework of course. Remember that the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend TV for kids age two or younger. Encourage your children to find fun activities to do with family members, or on their own that simply involve more activity.
USE HEALTHY COOKING TECHNIQUES AND INGREDIENTS
Don’t fry your foods often and serve fruits and vegetables at every meal. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in addition to being low in calories.
HEALTHY LIFESTYLES BEGIN AT HOME
Families that are active together and eat healthfully will offer the support that is needed to navigate our environment that is loaded with fast food, and technology. Set examples for your children and make healthy choices every day. The small things you do today will help your children grow into happy, healthy adults.•
HEALTHY CHOICES, HEALTHY LIFESTYLES
Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Vice President of Healthy Living and Community Engagement for Barnabas Health, New Jersey.