With so many factors contributing to childhood obesity, such as easy access to junk food and kids growing up attached to computers, keeping your child fit and healthy might seem overwhelming.
That’s an understandable feeling given the stats. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), childhood obesity rates have doubled in the past 30 years, while obesity rates for adolescents have tripled. In 2010 more than one third of children and adolescents were classified as either overweight or obese*.
A popular belief is that genetics play a crucial role in a person’s weight, but researchers still have not found one gene that can be linked to excess weight. This means that, while we know genetics is a factor because being overweight and obese tends to run in families, there must also be another component.
What we do know is that being overweight and obese is a combination of several factors, including genetics, environment, metabolism, activity level and nutrition. For now let’s focus on environmental factors, or more specifically, how a parent’s healthy or unhealthy behaviors affect a child’s weight.
Parents play a crucial role in setting healthy eating and activity behaviors for children. By following these five tips, you can set your child on the road to better health and nutrition:
- Introduce healthy foods early – Everything is new to very young children, so start introducing those foods early on.
- Eat fruits and vegetables in front of your children – If your child does not see you eating fruits and vegetables, why would they want to?
- Let your kids try it – even if you don’t like it – Children have different taste buds than adults, so if you do not bring the food into the house, your kids may never know that they enjoy certain healthy foods.
- Make meal time important – We are often multitasking during meal time, which can lead to overeating because we are not paying attention to portion sizes and hunger cues. Avoid distractions, such as television or games, and focus on family time.
- Avoid the drive-through whenever possible – If you’re always on the go, it’s probably often easier to go through a drive-through than cook a meal. While avoiding fast food completely might seem impossible, you can keep it to a minimum and think of it more as a treat. If you do opt for fast food, try to make better choices, such as getting fruit or yogurt as a side item instead of French fries and potato chips or try milk or juice instead of soda.
Remember – kids learn many of their eating behaviors and food preferences by watching their parents. Modeling healthy nutrition will teach your kids good behaviors that they will carry on into their adult lives.
*Overweight is defined as excessive weight for height, while obesity is defined as having excess body fat. If you do not know how your child compares to the standards, you and your health care provider can plot his or her height and weight on one of the CDC growth charts, which can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/.