One of the most important things parents can do for children's future is to help them maintain a healthy weight. The current statistics tell us we have some work to do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of young Americans ages 2-19 are obese, meaning they are more than 10 percent over a healthy weight for their height and age. Only 21 percent of young people eat the recommended 5 or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Even worse, almost half of the "vegetables" consumed by kids are fried potatoes! Kids also get 10-15 percent of their total calories from sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice. Stressed out parents may think giving their kids the junk foods they crave is the fastest, easiest way to feed everyone. But understanding the impact this choice has on kids' health might make them think twice. Being overweight increases a child's risk of hypertension, respiratory ailments, depression and type 2 diabetes. It also increases the likelihood that a child will grow up to be an overweight adult. When kids do become overweight, parents need to learn how to help them get back on track without triggering feelings of failure and depression that could lead to more overeating.
Getting enough exercise and staying active is a big part of the equation, too. But setting some ground rules about food is in the whole family's best interest. To start, here are some do's and don'ts that will help families with or without obese kids make some positive changes.
Do's and Don'ts of Kids' Nutrition
• Don't keep fattening food in the house and forbid kids to eat them. This will only cause resentment and "sneaking."
• Don't use unhealthy food as a reward (for finishing a meal, for instance). This teaches children to think of sweetened or fatty foods as being of higher value than healthy foods.
• Don't withhold food as a punishment. If you teach children to see hunger as a form of punishment, they may overeat so that they don't feel "punished."
• Don't make your children finish everything on the plate.
• Don't criticize or punish your children for bad food habits. Negative approaches to changing eating habits don't work. They make kids feel bad about themselves, which can make them eat more.
• Do keep the kitchen stocked with food that's good for everyone in your family.
• Do bring home fattening foods like chips, cookies, sodas, and ice cream occasionally. This may seem like odd advice, but if you don't, these types of foods will become "forbidden fruit" and seem all the more desirable. But make sure that eating unhealthy foods is the exception to the rule.
• Do restrict snacking to the kitchen or dining room so that children won't munch mindlessly in front of the TV.
• Do talk to kids about how high-fat, high-sugar foods are strongly marketed to them, often with free toys and colorful packages featuring cartoon characters. Explain that foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains aren't pushed in advertising but are much better for them.
• Do praise kids for making smart food choices.
Do you have special strategies to help your kids eat healthfully? Tell us!
Learn more about the dangers of childhood obesity:
TheVisualMD.com: Prevention begins in childhood