Every day you see another headline about the obesity epidemic in kids. One of the latest studies shows that obese children face not only long-term risks, but also more immediate ones. They’re more likely to have problems such as asthma, learning disabilities, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD).1
Yet kids (and adults) are surrounded—on television, on billboards, and online —by messages beckoning them to eat sugary, high-fat, often empty-calorie foods. It can feel like an uphill battle to get kids to make healthier choices—especially as they’re heading back to school, and out of earshot. Sure, you aren’t going to win all the battles. But you can have a huge impact. Here are a few important reminders:
1. Control the flow. What are you bringing into the house (and what kinds of habits are you modeling)? Remember, you have some control over this until your kid is old enough to shop solo. For now, you have veto power. If you keep the junk out, it can’t go in.2
2. Look at labels. Of course, stocking up on healthy foods means you also need to check labels.2 You might be surprised at what you find. That tub of nonfat flavored yogurt you think is so healthy might be chockfull of sugar—containing even more than the kids’ cereal you long ago shunned.
3. Go for staying power. Go for whole-grain breads, tortillas, pretzels, or cereals. Mix almond butter and celery, apples, or bananas. Try something new once in a while to broaden your kid’s tastes. Maybe roasted soy nuts will be a hit. Or, sweet red peppers dipped in hummus. You’ll never know unless you give it a try.2
4. Make it easy. Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter or string cheese or bags of low-sugar, whole-grain cereal within reach. Just don’t make eating too easy. In other words, restrict it to the kitchen or dining area. That can go a long way toward limiting mindless snacking in front of the TV or computer screen.2
5. Watch the sugar. Oh, yes, I know. That’s a tough one. Maybe even your sweet tooth gets its way more often than not. But sugar may do more than add extra pounds or cause tooth decay. New evidence links large amounts of sugar—separate from other factors—to the diabetes epidemic.3
If you do nothing else, nix the sweetened drinks. That includes sodas as well as fruit, energy, and sports drinks. Children who drink them not only consume more calories. They are also more likely to eat unhealthy foods.4 Keep milk and water on hand, instead of fruit juice and sweetened drinks or flavored milk or drinkable yogurt.3
Along with these five healthy habits, don’t forget an insurance policy for your kids: vitamins. When you come into the store, I can advise you about this.
1. HealthDay: “Obese Kids May Face Immediate Health Woes, Study Finds.” Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_133190.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
2. Mayo Clinic: “Healthy snacks for kids: 10 child-friendly tips.” Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/childrens-health/HQ00419/METHOD=print Accessed March 17, 2013.
3. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH (2013) The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57873. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057873. Available at: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057873 Accessed March 17, 2013.
4. HealthDay: “Sweet Drinks Tied to Higher Calorie Consumption in Kids.” Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_134838.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
5. FamilyDoctor.org: “Kids: Passing on Health Habits to Your Children.” Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/kids/eating-nutrition/healthy-eating/kids-passing-on-healthy-habits-to-your-children.printerview.all.html Accessed March 17, 2013.