How parents influence healthy habits in children

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As parents we want the best for our children.  We want them to be healthy, happy, and well-adjusted and to be able to learn and succeed in school. We also want them to develop healthy eating and exercise habits that they will carry with them into adulthood.  That’s why parents are the number one source affecting the way children feel about living a healthy lifestyle.  Children watch their parents’ every move, mirroring their actions; if a parent is sedentary, there is a good chance their children will be too.   However, parents who choose healthy foods and regularly exercise will be a tremendous influence on their children teaching them many valuable lessons on how to stay fit and healthy.  

Children who are healthy are better able to succeed and excel in school and sports and there are many ways we as parents can promote this type of environment.  One part of being healthy is to have an appropriate body weight for their age and gender.  When children gain too much weight this can increase their risk for disease such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in the blood), stroke and diabetes.  Overweight children are also more likely to have breathing problems like sleep apnea or asthma and they may start puberty at an early age.

When parents improve the eating habits of their family, it will help tremendously for an overweight child to be healthier too.  Never single them out but simply make the focus on everyone in the family getting healthier and more physically active.

Parents need to understand there are 3 factors as to why a child may have a weight imbalance:

1. Food factors

·      Frequent snacks consisting of high-energy foods, such as candies, cookies,

    crackers, fried foods, and ice cream.

·      Irregular or sporadic mealtimes, or missed/skipping meals

·      Eating when not hungry; eating while watching TV, playing video games, or

     doing homework.

·      Fast-food meals more than once per week.

·      Frequent meals of fried or sugary foods and beverages.

·      Exposure to advertising that promotes high-calorie foods.

2. Activity factors

·      More than an hour of sedentary activities such as TV, computer time, video

      games each day.

·      Less than 20 minutes of physical activity such as outdoor play, each day.

·      No access to recreational facilities.

3. Family and other factors 

·      Overweight family members, particularly parents.

·      Lack of sleep – children need at least 8-10 hours each night.

·      Keeping food on kitchen counters in plain sight.

·      A child using food for comfort.

·      Rewarding with food.

·      Making a child clean their plate.  

Methods to use at home

1.    Always eat breakfast and have a regular schedule of meals eaten.

2.    Avoid sugary beverages or beverages with calories in them.

3.    Stock up on nonfat/lowfat dairy products.

4.    Remove distractions when eating meals.

5.    Provide fiber rich foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grain products

6.    Promote a healthy body image.

7.    Promote physical activity.

8.    Make healthy meals and snacks at least 80-90% of the time.

9.    Parents need to set a good example when it comes to eating.

10. Eat together as a family and make eating fun and enjoyable.

11. Keep portion sizes reasonable for a child’s age.

12. Eat the majority of meals at home.

Ways to encourage your kids to get active

 1.    Head for the nearest park, swing set or jungle gym after school.

2.    Jump rope with your kids.

3.    When foul weather strikes, play active indoor games like having a dance contest.

4.    Go on a family walk, hike, bike ride or tennis match. 

5.    Play a backyard game such as tag, run races or throw a Frisbee.

6.    Set up a backyard for badminton or other net ball sports.

7.    Play catch or soccer.

8.    Encourage your child to help around the house – rake leaves, sweep the garage or walk ways, have them walk the dog, etc.

9.    Take a nature hike to collect leaves and rocks to make a collage.

10. Walk or bike to local library.

11. Play interactive computer games like Wii to promote physical activity.

12. Limit time your child spends in front of a screen to no more than 2 hours a day – this includes TV, computer, playing video games, being on a cell phone.

13. Keep the TV and computer and cell phones out of a child’s room.

14. Turn off the TV while eating.