From Dr. Mom: 10 Ways to Teach Kids Healthy Habits
By Birdie Varnedore, M.D.,SparkPeople.com's Resident Medical Expert
Childhood obesity is an epidemic. According to the CDC, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years. Children are now dealing with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems, fatty liver disease, gallstones, and heartburn--diseases that were once found mostly in adults.
Children who are overweight also face tremendous social and psychological problems, including discrimination and low self-esteem, according to studies.
And, in 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine announced that for the first time children are not expected to outlive their parents.
One major obstacle in combating childhood obesity is denial. Studies have provided the proof that when it comes to their children, parents are, in many cases, unable to see that there is a problem. Parents are looking at their children with the belief that they are healthy, but sadly many are wrong.
Despite the overwhelming evidence and our desire to help our children be healthy and happy, teaching our children healthy habits is not an easy task. Parents are competing with peer pressure, mass media, and a decreasing emphasis on physical activity in schools.
So, is there anything that you can do for your child?
Yes, of course. Today I'm going to share with you my top 10 tips, as a doctor and a mother of five!
First start by calculating your child's BMI and seeking the guidance of your child's pediatrician. Here are some tips intended for children ages 3 and up. These are not meant as specific advice. Please consult your pediatrician for recommendations for your child.
Tips for teaching your kids healthy habits:
- Lead by example. You are your child's best teacher. If you are eating chips and drinking soda while sitting on the couch watching TV then they will learn to do the same. If you tell your children that you hate vegetables, then there is a good chance they will as well. It is important for you to show your children that living a healthy lifestyle is positive and not a chore. Show your children that you want and like to eat healthy and that you enjoy exercising on a regular basis. Teach them consistency through your actions. You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't want the best for your child. Parents, we are in the spotlight! Our children are watching!
- Sleep. Obese children get less sleep than normal-weight children, according to the research. These children are spending this time watching TV, eating junk food, and playing on the computer. These children may also be eating to stimulate themselves to stay awake. You are the boss. Set a bed time and stick to it.
- Limit liquid calories. Calories in the form of liquids are huge contributors to childhood obesity. We know that sugary carbonated drinks are not recommended for children. This is non-negotiable. Sugary sodas are high in calories and provide no nutritional benefit (and cause cavities!) (Drinking one 20-ounce soda daily can lead adults to gain a half pound a week!) These liquid calories add excess calories without providing a feeling of satiety, meaning that they don't feel full and can keep eating even though they have consumed calories that will wind up as stored fat on their developing bodies. Seemingly innocent fruit juice is not so innocent. It is concentrated calories stripped its fiber. There are just too many calories in a small unsatisfying amount of liquid. If you must offer beverages other than milk and water, consider other options: fruit-juice based sodas, low-calorie juices, or a 50-50 mix of water and juice.
- Fiber. Thanks to SparkPeople, you likely have learned about the benefits of fiber for adults. Fiber has the same benefits in children. It can help your child maintain a healthy weight by providing a feeling of fullness and satiety. Start with whole fruits. (Avoid those juices!) Seek cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber. Below are the fiber recommendations for children from the American Heart Association.
- Eat only at the table! Children can learn to mindlessly eat just like adults--and remember they are watching us! Children can eat a bag of chips while playing on the computer or watching TV and a couple of hours later eat a full dinner. These calories that are consumed without thought are easily forgotten and can add up quickly. Make eating anywhere but the dinner table off limits. Eating while running around, playing video games, watching TV or hanging out at the computer is not acceptable.
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Birdie Varnedore, M.D., joined SparkPeople as a member in 2007 and lost 140 pounds the healthy way while balancing her demanding roles as a full-time neurologist, wife, and mother of five young children. Because of her amazing success, she has appeared in People magazine's annual "Half Their Size" issue, and on "Good Morning America" and "Oprah's Ultimate Weight Loss Finale."
A graduate of the University of Miami, Birdie has been practicing medicine since 2004. Board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in neurology and vascular neurology, she is a full-time neurologist at a hospital in Florida, and a member of her hospital's telemedicine stroke team.