When you look back on your childhood, at least one adult probably stands out as someone you looked up to. Everything they said or did, you wanted to say and do. Kids learn language and how to interact with others by watching and copying older people around them. Kids also learn this way when it comes to eating and exercising behaviors.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic sweeping the country. According to the CDC, about 17 percent of American children are obese, and this number continues to grow. Obese children have an 80 percent chance of being obese as an adult. This can lead to serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea, asthma, and type 2 diabetes.
Your role in preventing childhood obesity is more important than you think! Whether or not you have children of your own, you can shape healthy eating and exercise habits in kids who look up to you. Did you know:
- Research has shown that children develop food habits through exposure and repeated experience. Provide healthy food options in positive ways to encourage children to try new things. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t like a new vegetable at first — it may take a few tries, or you may need to cook it differently.
- Simply providing healthy foods is not enough! To truly impact a child, research shows the healthy food must not only be available to them, the parent also needs to eat the healthy food.
- Studies have found that eating dinner together increases consumption of fruits and veggies, and decreases the amount of sugary beverages and fatty foods a child with consume.
- The Framingham Children’s Study found that children of active parents are about six times more likely to be active themselves.
6 tips for raising healthier children:
- Cut the junk-food supply. As the adult, you control what foods are bought and consumed. Limit the amount of junk food in the house and buy healthier foods.
- Let children choose what foods they want. This will still give them freedom to make independent choices, but if you followed the first tip, all of their options will be healthier.
- Don’t make them clear their plate. Let children stop eating when they are full. By doing this, children will learn early on to listen to their bodies and realize when they are full. This will help reduce overeating in childhood as well as adulthood.
- Don’t reward with junk food. By rewarding children with junk food we reinforce the idea that good foods are high-calorie, sugary, high-fat foods. Reward children with stickers, extra time at the park, or a pool day instead of ice cream or chocolate.
- Cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages. Soda and juices add in calories that can lead to extra weight. Stick to water or milk for drinks, and limit the amount of soda and juice.
- Get moving! Find family friendly activities to do like biking or swimming. If your child likes video games and spends too much time sitting, swap to video game that involves standing or moving to get them playing more actively.
Ebbeling, C. B., Pawlak, D. B., & Ludwig, D. S. (2002). Childhood obesity: public-health crisis, common sense cure. The lancet, 360(9331), 473-482.