Disclaimer: The poor state of health in children, and the ever-increasing early onset of metabolic syndromes and obesity needs to be addressed. This is truly something that breaks my heart daily when I see those impacted by it and knowing not only how it will play a role now, but later in their lives. I know that as parents we are extremely sensitive to being directed on how to handle our children. Please know that the following note outlines my opinion on the matter and truly comes from the heart.
There are two essential factors involved in weight gain among children: physical inactivity and poor eating habits. A simple translation is more calories in than out. The root cause is our cultural obsession with food and convenience. Children develop obsessions about food at a very young age. Contributing to this are the vast array of highly processed, low nutrient foods targeting children. A trip down the cereal aisle at any grocery store will make this rather obvious. Most cereals are loaded with sugar. Other contributors are fast food restaurants that target children’s taste for fat. Their advertising methods create impressions that this food is a fun experience. What needs to be understood is children are developing a sense for taste. They are being programmed to require foods high in sugar and fat. Without these highly palatable concoctions, food is simply not appealing. Even worse, psychological dependence upon them is very difficult to overcome. In fact, many adults continue to struggle with food addictions and behaviors created when they were children.
Who’s responsible for child nutrition?
In my opinion it falls squarely on the parents. Unfortunately, children are the innocent victims of adult ignorance of healthy lifestyles. What power do they have to make healthy food decisions? As mentioned above, by the time they begin to make their own decisions, they have already become addicted to unhealthy food. If this is true, then the parents need to be more vigilant. It’s ironic that parents pay so much attention to their child’s safety and comforts but ignore the harmful effects of poor eating habits. Many live in ignorance, believing there is no harm in highly processed diets and excess fat and sugar.
They appease their children for now, without consideration of the long-term implications of doing so.
Ever heard someone say, “They’re just kids, let them enjoy it!”
While the child doesn’t know any better what the true impact is of certain dietary choices, the adults should. And that common sentiment is a problem in and of itself.
Mom and Dad are the Role Models
In one large survey of kids under age 12, mom and dad ranked highest as their children’s nutrition role models — the persons the kids most wanted to be like, reports Tanner-Blasier. Nearly 70% of children reported they were likely to talk with mom or dad about nutrition and their body size.
That survey — conducted by the American Dietetic Association Foundation — also picked up on the families’ activity levels. Kids were more likely to eat a meal or watch TV with a parent, rather than playing outside.
Our kids are always watching, and we need to be aware and lead by example. So often it is more about what we do, than what we say. It is rather hypocritical to be a couch potato yet to expect your kids to be active and playing outside. They can pick up on the disparity between what they are being told, and what they see being modeled in front of them.
And regarding nutrition, our kids can only eat what we buy and prepare for them. Sure, as they mature there are outside factors involved in the process, but during their formative years they rely on the adult to provide nutrition. This includes proper portion control and including healthy food options that will support their development and function.
What can we do as parents?
Outside of the obvious; limiting processed junk food in the home, less frequent fast food trips, and not seeking to appease child issued demands I would suggest:
- Model healthy eating and activity habits. As referenced, kids learn from what they see us do.
- Teach healthy habits, such as family meals together. Studies have shown that mindless eating, such as that done when in front of a tv or on an electronic device, decrease our innate ability to sense hunger cues and when we are full. Think about how easy it is to take down a whole tub of popcorn in the theater among other snacks.