September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Parents. . .Eat Your Words!

Are you pleased with your progress toward healthful nutrition and fitness habits, but frustrated with that of your children?

Do you suspect that the lunches you send to school are traded or thrown away? Do you shudder at the sight of your pantry shelves displaying high-fat snacks and sugary cereals that you vowed you would never buy? Can you really win the battle against advertising, peer pressure and kids’ love affairs with sugar and fat?

The Bad News and the Good News

Kids today are fatter and less fit than previous generations. The rates of childhood obesity began to level off around 2006, but are still high at around 16%. And research shows that overweight children are more likely to become overweight or obese adults. Being overweight as a child even puts youngsters at risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes at a young age.

Food companies spend millions of dollars on television advertising to convince children that high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods are worth eating. Food is consumed because it’s cool, fun or comes with a free toy, rather than for its impact on health or even for its taste.

So what’s a parent to do? Eat your words! The fact is that parents who have adopted a lifestyle that includes healthful foods and regular exercise are living role models for their children.

We know that the behaviors children see most often at home are the ones they will be most likely to adopt for themselves, and parents’ efforts to promote healthy food habits do make a difference. Eat at least one meal together as a family each day, so that your children can regularly observe healthy eating habits.

Stack the Deck

It is a good idea to stock the kitchen with a majority of healthy items, keeping in mind that kids want some of their favorite foods, which may be sweet and/or salty. Save these foods for once-in-a-while treats, and make their regular snacks healthier.

Buy pretzels, which are low in fat, instead of greasy chips. Keep cut-up vegetables and ready-to-eat mini-carrots in the refrigerator. Sprinkle air-popped popcorn with grated parmesan cheese instead of butter. Check out www.eatright.org for a list of more healthy snacks for kids.

A good way to get kids involved and committed to healthy eating habits is to involve them with the food shopping and preparation. There are lots of children’s cookbooks on the market; select one that emphasizes ways to modify your kids’ favorite foods rather than eliminate them. Children who feel competent to select and prepare food will make more intelligent food choices. www.MyPyramid.gov has some great educational tools for teaching children about balanced nutrition and physical activity.

Balance Is Everything

The key to keeping kids happy and healthy is to strike a balance between foods that are good for them and those that just taste good, and between leisure or TV time and physical activity.

This brings us to the other side of the healthy living equation. The most obvious impact of inactivity on kids is the strong association between the number of hours spent watching TV or playing computer games and the level of obesity among youngsters.

Children should engage in 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Encourage kids to get outside and play tag, jump rope or get involved in sports.

Make physical activity a family affair. Go for a bike ride together, play catch or walk the dog. This will motivate you to get some exercise in, while simultaneously setting a great example for your kids—and creating lifelong memories. It’s a win-win-win situation!

Additional Resources

American Dietetic Association: www.eatright.org
MyPyramid Food Guidance System: www.MyPyramid.gov

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