Sara A. Parr, MS, RD, LDN

Ask Sara

Our Kids and Healthy Lifestyle Habits

by Sara Parr, MS RD LDN

If you have a child or grandchild aren't their health and well being of utmost concern? Even if you don't, shouldn't we all be concerned that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. According to an article from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.

Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term health impacts: Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.3,6 Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

It's a caloric imbalance causes obesity. Too few calories expended for the amount of calories that are consumed. Genetics, behavioral, and environmental factors can also play a part.

If you are involved in a child's life, are you doing your part to help avoid this imbalance?

Promote healthy eating and physical activity

    Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.

Focus on healthy eating. No excuses.

  • The Excuse: My child snacks after school then doesn't eat the healthy foods provided at dinner.
  • Solution: Make the most of snacking. Think of them as mini meals. As long as those snacks are nutritious (not soda, chips, and candy) then the quantity at the next meal is not as important. Some examples of some healthy snacks are hard cooked eggs, fruit smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt and fruit.

  • The Excuse: My child does not like to try new foods.
  • Solution: Continue to encourage new foods and be patient. Kids are naturally slow to accept new tastes and textures. Present new foods at least 15 times. Show you child how the rest of the family enjoys the food. Foods may best be accepted when it is familiar to your child. Make sure you are a good role model. Eat meals with your child whenever possible. A study entitled Household Routines and Obesity in US Preschool-Aged Children by Sarah E. Anderson, PhD, Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH concluded US preschool-aged children exposed to the 3 household routines of regularly eating the evening meal as a family, obtaining adequate nighttime sleep, and having limited screen-viewing time had an 40% lower prevalence of obesity than those exposed to none of these routines. These household routines may be promising targets for obesity-prevention efforts in early childhood.

  • The Excuse: I don't know how to get my child interested in healthier foods.
  • Solution: Involve your child with making healthy choices. Take them grocery shopping and allow them to choose a new fruit or vegetable. Have a family "try a new food night". Let your child help with food preparation. Let them choose what goes into their lunch box.

Explore some websites together that focus on healthy habits like:

Set Your Family Up for Success

  • When shopping don't buy it if you don't want your child to eat. Give that pantry and fridge an overhaul by ridding it of nutrient-devoid chips, cookies, and candy. Replace them with healthier, easy to grab foods like nuts, baby carrots, low-fat string and cottage cheese, yogurt, and dried fruit. Keep a seasonal fruit bowl in easy access for that snack attack after school. Pair sliced veggies and fruit with yummy and nutritious yogurt, guacamole, or hummus dips, or making after-school smoothies with frozen fruit, low-fat milk, and yogurt.

  • Limit those calorie dense beverages. Did you know that liquid calories do not give us that same feeling of fullness (satiety) that eating a solid food does? They are high in calories and lacking nutrients. Before you know it you could have gulped down over 200 calories and are still left hungry. Have water or low fat milk instead.

Emphasize regular physical activity

  • Turn off that TV and play with your kids. Throw around a ball, go bike riding, take a family walk or hike. Or you could try skating or swimming. Help your child find activities that they enjoy by exploring all the different possibilities.

  • There are many benefits to physical activity for you and your child such as helping you feel less stressed, better about yourself and more ready to learn. It helps keep a healthy weight, builds strong bones, muscles and joints and can help you sleep better at night. Most children need about an hour of exercise per day.

  • Again, be a positive role model. Try to establish a regular schedule for physical activity. Use daily routines as an opportunity to incorporate more activity. Instead taking the elevator, take the stairs or walk to the store or to friends instead of driving. And don't forget to keep it fun!

Children are so impressionable. Your influence is great and it will shape your child's attitude toward food and physical activity. Starting early is key. Don*t let your family be part of these disheartening statistics. Remember like you, your child's eating habits won't likely change overnight but making small steps each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.

Start making healthy lifestyle changes today!