Does your child eat high fat, high sugar foods on a regular basis such as fast food, chips, candy, cookies, soda, etc? Does your child spend more time on the phone, watching television, and playing video games rather than participating in physical activity? If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions than your child maybe at risk for a major health problem. Nationwide, diet and physical activity patterns have resulted in an epidemic of overweight and obese adolescents, placing our children at risk for chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, high-blood pressure, and some cancers.
According to the Public Health Institute, obesity is the most common nutritional disease among youth. At least one child in five is obese. Too many children are eating more and exercising less, spending more time in front of the computer and television. Among 12-17 year-olds, the prevalence of obesity rose with each additional hour of watching TV and nearly half of American youths age 12 to 21 are not vigorously active on a regular basis. At a time when children need specific vitamins and minerals for growth and strong bones, research shows they are most likely to lack the required intake. About a quarter of the adolescent diet is junk food - french fries and other deep-fried foods, desserts, regular soft drinks, candy, cookies, pies and cakes.
Not only do poor eating and exercise habits affect physical health, but they also affect performance in school contributing to low-test scores, poor attendance, poor concentration, low energy levels, increased irritability and low confidence levels. Eating a balanced diet with enough fruits and vegetables is one way to reduce the negative effects of an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. A balanced diet consists of recommended servings from the five food groups from the food guide pyramid, a guide to daily food choice (see below).
So what kind of example are you setting? In order for children to succeed in having a healthy diet, parents need to become more involved. Childhood is the best time to start forming healthy eating and exercise habits. Parents are a main influence on a majority of what a child consumes on a daily basis. Parents may think that they have little influence over what their children eat, but in fact family eating habits influence young people far more than those of friends and television, according to recent studies. Family members overwhelmingly dictate how and what other family members eat.
It is important to remember that you do not make enforcement of healthy habits a fight. What you can do as a parent is offer healthy foods for meals and if your child does not eat them, do not force them to eat something they do not like and instead find foods that your child will enjoy. Ask your child what are their favorite fruits and vegetables, providing them for snacks and with meals. Reading food labels to check if the food item is high in fat and sugar is a good habit not only for you child's health but also for your entire family. Limit the availability of high-fat, high-sugar foods and snacks. Make time to prepare meals and eat dinner together to provide a proper and positive eating environment at the dinner table instead of in the car or in front of the television.
To help your child become more active, make exercise family time. Go on bike rides together, walks, play in the park, and participate in other outdoor activities that everyone enjoys. Consider active, adventurous vacations: horseback riding, skiing or swimming.
In planning the new healthy lifestyle of your family and children, keep in mind the following:
- Eating healthy foods is not a priority for most children.
- Fruits and vegetables don't taste as good as other options.
- The places where adolescents eat away from home, such as school and fast-food restaurants, don't promote these foods or don't make these options appealing.
- Fruits and Vegetables and other health foods are not as convenient as other foods.
- Children don't want to or don't make time to exercise.
Additional Tips for Healthier Children
- Offer cereals, which have four grams of sugar or less per serving.
- Buy low fat or fat free snacks, such as pretzels, crackers, bagels, yogurt, fruit roll-ups, dried fruit, etc. instead of cookies, candy, cakes and chips.
- Use fat-free or 1% dairy products instead of whole or 2% to cut back on fat.
- Buy 100% fruit juices, instead of soda or other high sugar beverages that have little or no nutritional value.
- Make sure your child exercises at least thirty (30) minutes a day, three days a week.
- Encourage your child to bring a bagged lunch to school instead of buying lunch in the school cafeteria where they might choose high fat food such as fast food, candy or soda.
- Become more involved in what your child's school cafeteria is offering for lunch. Most schools now offer high fat, fast foods and limited healthy options. Contact the school district's Registered Dietician and ask that more healthy options be offered.
For more information on how to become more involved in promoting healthy foods and physical activity at your child's school please contact:
Project L.E.A.N. (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition)
Health Education Council