Better habits today,better health in the future
Special to The Union
Family Wellness Goals
Lind says the following goals are great for all parents and kids, regardless of whether weight is a problem or not.
— Five servings of fruits and veggies daily
— Limit screen time, less than one hour per day
— Play and be active for one hour per day
— Save sugary drinks and treats for special occasions
Since the 1970s, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity in our country has more than tripled (according to the Centers for Disease Control). In fact, the most recent data shows that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children is obese.
“Childhood obesity often leads to adult obesity,” explains Jennifer Lind, Registered Dietitian at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “Along with obesity comes social stigma and difficulty with sports and activities, as well as some serious health consequences.”
Those consequences can include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, sleep apnea, knee and back pain, and asthma, to name a few.
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a time to educate yourself about the facts of childhood obesity and how to help the children you care about becoming a part of this epidemic.
To understand your child’s weight better, talk to your doctor about his or her “BMI for age” – this is their Body Mass Index adjusted for age and gender. The National Institutes of Health says BMI categories for children are:
— Healthy: 5th to 84th percentile
— Overweight: 85th to 94th percentile
— Obese: 95th or higher
If you’re concerned about your child, first talk to your doctor. And then, look at your own health and eating habits.
Lind points out that children often model their parents’ behaviors and choices, especially when it comes to food.
“Parents should display healthy eating,” Lind says. “Remember, eating is a family affair. Be a good role model.”
Lind encourages parents not to label foods as “good” or “bad,” but rather to teach kids how certain foods can help their bodies grow strong and healthy. She says to keep it simple when teaching kids about food choices.
“Explain that fruits and veggies have fiber and vitamins that feed our cells and help our tummy stay healthy,” Lind explains. “Tell them that chicken has protein to help our muscles grow strong. Whole grains have more fiber and healthy vitamins and minerals compared to white flour products. Fish has good fat that helps our brain.”
Another good tactic is to enlist your child to help pick food and cook meals. Encourage them to try a new vegetable every week, either while shopping at a farmer’s market or perhaps by growing some in your own yard.
Lind reminds parents that kids who are heading off to a long day at school really need a nutritious breakfast that includes protein and fiber. She recommends granola, oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, fruit, or whole grain pancakes with nut butter and bananas.
And when kids get home from school, parents can prevent mindless snacking by planning ahead and having nutritious options ready.
“Keep fruits, veggies, nuts or nut butter, yogurts, and whole grain crackers on hand for quick snacks,” Lind says. “If your child has a sport to attend after school, pack extra snacks in the morning. Fruit, nut or whole grain-based bars with few ingredients, such as Lara Bar, Kind bars, or fig bars, are great choices and can be packed easily in the car, a backpack or mom’s purse.”
Lind says if you’re having a tough time getting your child on board with healthier eating – don’t give up.
“Most children go through picky eating phases,” Lind points out. “Don’t label your child as picky, instead continue to offer, but don’t force, a variety of veggies and new foods. If you keep replacing the packaged foods with whole foods, eventually your child will get on board.”
If you get discouraged, Lind reminds us – the habits we teach our kids today will pay off with better health the rest of their life.
“The sooner families can make long term lifestyle changes, the sooner we can get our kids on the right track for a healthy, long life,” Lind says.
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