Parents can role model healthy eating


By Sharon M. Smith

Part one of two

We have all heard about the growing number of obese children in America, but as I stand in the middle of my son’s playground at his elementary school in the La Jolla area, I don’t see very many overweight children. Does this mean we don’t have to worry about our children growing up and becoming obese?

Don’t think your child is in the clear if you allow them to eat whatever they like or spend most of their days clicking away on some electronic device. According to California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 40 percent of fifth graders and 44 percent of ninth graders are overweight. Since 1980, the percentage of American children who are overweight has doubled. The percentage of overweight adolescents has nearly tripled, according to Kaiser Permanente.

The numbers are staggering. What we teach our children today about healthy eating and daily exercise will help them take healthy habits into their adulthood. We can fight obesity right here in our homes and at their schools (in my next article).

Remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry’s cousin goes on a diet and the entire family starts eating only grapefruit for breakfast? Harry, who is still starving, runs up to his room and gobbles up sweets and treats. The idea of a family effort is good, but putting your child on a diet and keeping them hungry is not encouraged. According to KidsHealth, “The key to keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach.” They encourage us to “make eating and exercise a family affair.” The agency also alerts us parents to some common food eating behavior traps such as these don’ts:

Reward children for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats. (I wonder if that also refers to rewards for potty training. Hmmm).

Maintain a clean-plate policy. That policy was strictly enforced at my family’s table when growing up. I even remember falling asleep at the table because I had to sit there until I finished my peas.

Talk about “bad food” or completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snack from overweight children’s diets. According to the site, “Children may rebel and over eat these forbidden foods outside the home or sneak them in on their own.”

The overall tip is to serve a variety of healthy foods and eat meals together. Try to include five servings of fruits and vegetables a day in their diet, encourage your child to eat breakfast every day and pack healthy snacks for them.

Kaiser Permanente also encourages us to create opportunities for our children to play hard at least 30-60 minutes every day, to limit our children’s electronic time and that even small increases in physical activity over time can make a big difference in our children’s weight and health.

If your child is overweight, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, your child will not need to lose weight, but to reduce their rate of weight gain so that they can “grow into” their weight (consult your physician if you are concerned or thinking of putting them on a diet). Unless your child is motivated to change eating habits and activity levels, then he or she will fall back into past habits.

If your child is underweight, alerts us to, “avoid letting your child fill [up on] empty calories, such as candy and soft drinks, or high-fat food from fast-food restaurants. Begin by planning meals and snacks with calorie-dense foods from each food group.”

It wasn’t the first bath, changing their diapers, figuring out how our kids can sleep through the night, the first day of kindergarten, or a hard year of second grade that has stressed me out as a parent. It is the daily responsibility of making sure that my children eat all the foods in the food pyramid and get enough exercise. I worry about them not eating enough vegetables or how they spent a half an hour longer on their Gameboy or playing games on the computer.

But I’m trying to keep my kids healthy, and I know my example and my efforts are the best that I can give them. As KidsHealth summarizes, “Most of all, let your children know you love them – no matter what their weight – and that you want to help your child be happy and healthy.”