Share Healthy Habits with your Children
Childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed over the past 40 years. Between the late 1970’s and 2008, obesity rates doubled in preschoolers and more than tripled in 6-11 year olds and adolescents. According to the CDC, 17% of American children are currently obese — not surprising when you consider that vegetables consist of less than 2% of children’s diets.1 Although children do get less exercise than in past generations, diet is the biggest contributor to childhood obesity.2
When children carry excess weight, it threatens their future health. Approximately 3,600 American children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year, and are in danger of future complications from the disease.3 Seventy percent of obese children have at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor and 39% have two or more risk factors.4 A study that followed American children for 24 years found that childhood obesity was greatest risk factor for premature death due to chronic disease.5 Plus, childhood diets have a strong influence on adult cancers — children’s growing cells are formed by the foods that they eat.6, 7
Children in our society become addicted to junk food at a young age, and will repeatedly demand these foods. It takes a great deal of effort to derail these bad habits once they are established. Parents are the ones primarily responsible for what their children are eating. Our goal should be to instill healthy habits in our children early on so that they grow up at a healthy weight, appreciate healthy food and exercise, and hold on to those habits as adults. Here are some tips:
- Keep only healthy food in the house. Every person in the household should have the same food choices available.
- Discuss food choices and make collective dietary goals as a family.
- Eat dinner together as a family.
- Involve children with food preparation.
- Once a week, discuss a health topic as a family.
- Don’t reward good behavior with junk food.
- Plan fun family activities that involve exercise.
- Pack healthy lunches for your children that include fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and raw vegetables.
- Offer and feed a wholesome diversity of natural foods so that each child as much freedom as possible to eat what they prefer.
- Don't attempt to manage your children's caloric intake. They can do that on their own.
When parents live a healthful lifestyle, their children follow. More information on feeding children healthfully can be found in my book Disease Proof Your Child.
1. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, et al: Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents, 2007-2008. JAMA 2010, 303:242-249.
2. Eagle TF, Gurm R, Goldberg CS, et al: Health status and behavior among middle-school children in a midwest community: what are the underpinnings of childhood obesity? Am Heart J 2010, 160:1185-1189.
3. Overview of Diabetes in Children and Adolescents. From the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP). 2011.
4. Freedman DS, Mei Z, Srinivasan SR, et al: Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. J Pediatr 2007, 150:12-17 e12.
5. Franks PW, Hanson RL, Knowler WC, et al: Childhood obesity, other cardiovascular risk factors, and premature death. N Engl J Med 2010, 362:485-493.
6. Maynard M, Gunnell D, Emmett P, et al: Fruit, vegetables, and antioxidants in childhood and risk of adult cancer: the Boyd Orr cohort. J Epidemiol Community Health 2003, 57:218-225.
7. Frazier AL, Li L, Cho E, et al: Adolescent diet and risk of breast cancer. Cancer Causes Control 2004, 15:73-82.