Everyone wants to give a child the healthiest possible start in life. Yet our busy lives and demanding schedules make it easy to grab fast food and place kids in front of the television to keep them quiet. Meanwhile, the percentage of children who are overweight or obese has doubled in the past 10 years, primarily because children eat too much for the little amount of physical activity they undertake each day.
The source of the problem
Children face several barriers to physical activity and healthy eating. Awareness of these barriers is also a key step in addressing them.
- Excessive television viewing. The more children watch television, the more they are likely to be overweight. Any more than one hour of television viewing per day will have an impact.
- Stress. Traumatic events such as abuse, separation or annulment can contribute to overeating and weight gain in children.
- Riding in the car. Parents may worry about their children playing or walking to school in an unsafe neighborhood, so they are driven instead of walking or cycling.
- Media influence. Children are vulnerable to the temptations offered by the media. Expensive campaigns target and tempt kids, yet little is spent promoting exercise or healthy foods.
- Parents in denial. Parents are likely to improve the lifestyle habits of their children unless they identify a problem. However, one study showed that 50 percent of parents with obese children and 70percent of parents with overweight children saw their children as “normal weight”.
- And more… Additional barriers to a healthy lifestyle include a lack of fitness-oriented classes in school, a lack of recreational facilities (especially in low-income areas) and busy parents.
What can we do?
Strict diets and fanatical exercise programs will not work for children. Making changes to a child’s lifestyle, and possibly the whole family’s, is a challenge that will require time and effort. An important strategy to prevent and treat childhood weight problems is to address the three key issues: diet, exercise and role modeling. A parent’s knowledge of nutrition, the foods provided, the examples that is set, and the attitude towards exercise and healthy eating, will have a strong influence over the health of a child.
Food for thought
Healthy nutrition is not only vital for a child’s health, but it also helps assist with growth, learning and development. Children who are poorly nourished are likely to become tired and cranky, making life harder at home and at school.
Parents buy the food and fill lunch boxes. The popularity and increased availability of fast foods is a concern, but at the end of the day, there is always a choice not to buy it. The key as a parent is to take control over what a child eats, and find a balance between the foods a child should eat most. moderately, and least.
The importance of breakfast cannot be overestimated. Breakfast is associated with improved strength and endurance, a better attitude towards school, improved memory, prevention of hunger, and also prevention of subsequent overeating during the day.
The best way for children to learn healthy eating habits is from good examples in the home and at school. Children learn the most from what they see and do on a regular basis.
Parents as role models
By setting a good example, parents have a unique opportunity to be a positive influence on their children’s eating habits. The home environment has a powerful influence on the health of a child. It won’t help to declare a junk-free zone for your kids while Mom and Dad munch away on chips and lie on the couch. Children are good learners and they learn by what they see.
Parents can make a huge difference by changing the whole family’s approach to diet and by encouraging family members to be more active. This benefits everyone and doesn’t single out a child who is overweight.
Choose healthy foods and active pursuits for yourself. Children will see they can follow your habits and emulate your desire to be active. They will also see that healthy behavior is important for adults and develop a positive attitude towards health and fitness for the rest of their lives.
When you do make changes, be sure you are well-informed. There is a child’s growth and development to consider and lessons about food and exercise that could last a lifetime.
Andrew Cate is an author and online personal trainer. Read more of his articles at www.andrewcate.com. And if you’re not too busy to browse more pages online, might as well visit to see some woodwinds at Musicians Friend.