Helping Children Form Healthy Habits
Recently, I was in the airport for a very early morning flight. As I stood in line at the coffee shop, I observed a family with a young child ordering their “breakfast,” and what I saw gave me more of a jolt than any cup of coffee ever could. Dad snagged a couple bags of chips, while mom grabbed drinks from the cooler next to the register, asking their young son if he’d like Pepsi or Mt. Dew. My heart broke for this young child as I watched his parents hand him a bag of Doritos and bottle of Mt. Dew for his breakfast. Was this the norm for this kid, whose parents were both of very unhealthy weight themselves? Did they realize the potentially devastating and long-lasting effects these choices may have on their child’s life?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015-2016 shows that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States is obese. Obese youth are more likely to have:
- risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure
- prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes
- bone and joint problems
- sleep apnea
- social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem
Evidence shows that students who eat right and are physically active learn lifelong habits and are better equipped to succeed academically. It is up to us, parents, caretakers, aunts and uncles, educators, to not only help them make healthy choices, but to show them through our actions, leading by example. Here are a few ideas to help you assist the child(ren) in your life develop healthy habits that will stick with them for a lifetime:
Make food fun
Even the pickiest of eaters are often more willing to try new foods when they are disguised as trains, boats, cars, bees, butterflies, or cows. Pinterest is full of fun ideas to dress up snacks and dinner for your picky eater.
Planting a garden is another great way to get children involved and interested in healthy eating. Kids are far more likely to try new foods if they have been involved in choosing what to plant, mulching, watering, weeding, and eventually harvesting their food. Caring for a garden also teaches them about responsibility, and physically working in a garden is a great form of exercise! If you are short on space, try a community garden or plant some tomatoes or spinach in a small planter.
Get the whole family moving
Exercise is one of the most critical ways of supporting healthy development. Make time for everyone to get moving together. Go swimming, take walks, ride bikes, or try geocaching together.Show your child that exercise can be fun rather than a chore! Have a hula hoop contest, build an obstacle course, play freeze tag or hide-and-seek, throw a frisbee, toss a ball, or jump on a trampoline. Aim for 30-60 minutes of movement each day, but it does not have to happen all at once. Several small bursts of active play can add up to a healthy kid! The exercise and time together will benefit the overall health of everyone in the family.
Eat the rainbow
No, I’m not talking about skittles. Teach your children to choose healthy foods in a variety of different colors, such as blueberries, spinach, pomegranates, yellow squash, and red bell peppers, at every meal. Eating foods of different colors isn’t just fun—it has health benefits too. Help your kids understand the nutritional value of including a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetable in their regular diet.
Look at Labels
Although your kids (especially tweens and teens) may care most about the label on their clothes, it is important to teach them to pay more attention to food nutrition labels. Show kids how to read the labels that actually affect their health. Focus on a few key parts of the label - such as the amount of trans fats, and grams of sugar or sodium - to avoid overwhelming them.
Eating healthy and taking time to work out yourself may be the most important way to show children that nutrition and fitness should be a priority. Skip the soda and opt for water instead. Ditch the chips and grab a handful of almonds or veggies for a healthy snack. You can fit in a full-body workout in only 30 minutes at 9Round, so you don’t have to worry about spending hours in the gym. Children over 10*, who are tall enough to safely reach equipment, are even welcome to work out with you. (*Contact your 9Round location for their specific policy on age/height restrictions.) Health and fitness can be fun, and it should be a family affair. Let’s work together to start building a happier, healthier future for our children!