To Your Health
January, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 01)
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Kids & Nutrition: 6 Ways to Help Your Children Eat Right

By Julie Engebretson

In the past decade, Americans have become increasingly aware of a rampant epidemic. Televised public service announcements encourage parents, teachers and doctors to watch for the danger signs as childhood obesity continues to rise. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 20 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight or obese!

"Many of our lifestyle habits are truly increasing our risk factors, from an early age, for a number of health problems in adulthood," says Kathy Shadle James, DNSc, CNP, an associate professor of nursing in the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of San Diego, who also provides weight counseling for obese adolescents and their parents. "These [risk factors] include diabetes, high blood pressure, polycystic ovarian disease in women and heart disease; not to mention unseen factors such as low self-esteem, diminished body image and even depression."

Girl holding orange up to her eye. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Parents are urged to be part of a solution to this growing concern, meeting the problem of childhood obesity head-on and taking measures to avoid the potentially lifelong consequences surrounding this condition. Here are six ways you can become a force of change and a lasting example of health for your children.

Boy raising his arms in triumph. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark 1. Establish motivation for your children to eat well. Each family member, depending on their age, interests and physical condition, has a different understanding about why proper nutrition is so important. It's helpful to identify everyone's "good food motivators," says Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, clinic nutrition coordinator at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle. "For a 3-year-old, it may be to grow tall. For a 13-year-old, it may be to be the best soccer player. Help identify motivators with your family that are personal and individualized, and use these to encourage healthful food choices."

Plate full of fruit. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark 2. Make good foods easily accessible to children. When children head to the pantry or refrigerator for a little something to eat, more often than not, they will reach for the first thing visible. So try slicing up carrot sticks and storing them in clear containers on eye-level shelves in the refrigerator. Place baskets of fruit on the kitchen table. Store dried fruits and nuts in glass jars. No matter your strategy for making good foods first, healthy snacking starts with the parent. "Making good choices begins at the grocery store, with parents selecting which foods to bring home," says Boutin. "If healthy foods are the choices, the right choices are easy."

Mother and two children enjoy a meal. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark 3. Establish a regular schedule for meals and snacks. Let's face it: It takes time to eat right and regularly. But the benefits, of establishing why and where we eat, are worth the effort. It's really a question of priority. "Families have to decide together to make nutrition a priority. Parents are responsible for providing regular times to eat," says Dr. James. Sticking to scheduled meal and snack times also encourages a healthy attitude toward food and an understanding of its purpose.

"Help your family recognize physical hunger as separate from emotional needs," advises Boutin. One easy way to thwart your good efforts is allowing your child to eat regular meals in front of the television! Studies show that, while watching television, children exhibit very little brain activity, allowing for mindless eating - literally. In order to recognize fullness, the brain must be engaged, telling the stomach, in a sense, that it's time to stop eating. According to Boutin, establishing regular meal times and locations will ensure that "food will be used at the right times, in the right ways."