Children’s Health is Affected by What They Eat
QUESTION: Is what they eat really that important? Does food really affect children’s health?
ANSWER: Absolutely, but it is not what you think! Although it is very often true that overweight kids turn into overweight adults with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases in adulthood, here is the real problem:
Overweight kids have elevated blood pressures, elevated blood cholesterol levels, and elevated blood sugar levels compared to their normal-weight classmates during childhood.
There is presently an epidemic of children with “adult” diabetes in this country. This is because our children weigh so much more than they should and children’s health is being compromised.
- Childhood BMI Can Predict Obesity Starting at Early as 6 Months
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In addition, overweight girls tend to begin their periods (menarche) at an earlier age. Young girl and boy athletes who drink sports drinks, sodas, diet drinks, juices, etc., instead of low-fat, fat-free or skim milk have a greater chance of bone fractures while playing or engaging in sports. These drinks do not contain calcium, or, if they do, the calcium is at a very low level (10-15%) and just added as an advertising gimmick to draw in parents.
Can You “Get” Your Child To Eat Vegetables?
So many parents ask me, “How can I GET my kid to eat vegetables?” The answer is actually very simple. You can’t GET kids to eat vegetables. If you want kids to eat veggies, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy, YOU have to eat it yourself. So, your question to me should be, “How can I get MYSELF to eat vegetables?”
Many studies have been done to determine the best approach that adults can take to improve the nutrition of children, whether the adult is a teacher, a parent, a relative, or another caregiver.
Children’s Health is Also Affected by Their Parents
It turns out that all the data suggest the following role for adults in children’s health and nutrition:
Parents need to buy healthy food.
A healthy food is one that fits into the USDA Dietary Guidelines, not one that fits into a food company’s advertising and marketing. Do not let food companies define what is healthy.
Learn more about Food Manufacturers and Misleading Food Labels.
Parents need to prepare this food in an attractive and healthy manner.
That means no frying, using less salt and sugar and making sure that all the food groups are present AT EACH MEAL and in a style that appeals to both you and your child. Do your kids love to eat fried foods? Try buying an air fryer that gives that great crunch without all the oil and fat.
Parents need to eat or drink the food themselves.
This is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. Parents need to model good eating behavior. If you think that your kid is going to eat the apple wedges in a fast food meal while you are chomping on the french fries, you are wrong. Or telling kids to drink their milk, while you drink a soft drink, forget it! YOU need to eat real food, too! And you will be healthier for it and a better parent.
Parents SHOULD NOT prompt kids to eat this or that.
For example, if you eat the tomatoes, you can have dessert. What the science shows is that this approach makes kids hate veggies even more and love desserts more…after all, aren’t you giving them the message, “I know veggies taste awful, but as a reward you can have this great-tasting dessert.” Instead, what about serving spaghetti with store-bought tomato sauce and cutting up extra tomatoes and putting them in the sauce prior to it being warmed up, or thinking of other child acceptable ways of introducing veggies and fruits.
Forget the “clean your plate” routine.
Kids should stop eating when they are full, not when the plate is empty. This does not mean that food will be wasted. It means that a child is taught to 1) only take an amount of food that he feels he can eat and 2) once the child is full, he needs to stop eating. It is important not to override the feeling of being full (satiety). Once that is lost, the child goes on to be the adult who uses external cues to stop eating, rather than internal ones; eating when the food is finished or the plate is empty, rather than when the hunger is gone.
Parents need to be within their reasonable weight ranges and create a culture of health for the entire family.
The fact is that children need to see models of healthy behavior in their parents, their teachers, and their relatives. Being overweight, obese, or physically inactive is NOT inherited. What is inherited is a family culture that eats high fat, high salt, high sugar, and high-calorie foods and a culture that encourages inactivity, instead of ACTIVITY…for everyone, not just children.
Children pick up non-verbal cues from adults. Saying to children, “Eat your greens,” or “Go outside and play,” or “You watch too much TV”…that is not as important as providing children with the visual and psychological cues by having adults exhibiting healthy lifestyle behavior, themselves. Guess what? That is an important part of being a good parent (and a good teacher, too).