Today I want to focus on changes in the home that can create a culture of health. The proactive culture in the home that can arm your child with the needed skills for growing up healthy and having a normal weight in the 21st century. It is time to prove the predictors of gloom and doom wrong.
I find most parents today try to do a better job. They are dropping sugar drinks, introducing more fruits and veggies. I have witnessed this gradual but dramatic shift in parenting over the past 10 years- parents want the better choice. But is this enough? We are bombarded with the new processed foods: the “healthy” choices and labels covered with claims of health benefits.
The home and habits of the parents define what is normal. Up to age 12, children most of their habits from their home. They want to grow up to be like their parents.
What does your kitchen teach your child? Is the pantry full of crackers, pretzels, granola. Instant oatmeal and protein bars? if so, processed, high sugar/carb diet is still the norm. Change it up with Rolled Oats, Nuts, Beans, Ground flax, Olive oil, Vinegar, and Whole Grain Crackers.
If you open the fridge to find bottled dressings with added sugar, nondairy sweetened creamers, ketchup, diet sodas, chicken nuggets, muffins and lunch “meat”, then your health message can become totally lost.
You may be surprised the difference that occurs when you are greeted with Pitchers of water infused with cucumbers or citrus, milk, yogurt, cheese, fresh salsa, natural peanut butter, whole grain bread, veggies whole and cut up for easy access, sliced turkey breast and fruit. Creating a kitchen that says we value health benefits the entire family.
The new norm is for the home to be a culture of health. There is no question that a high plant based diet is a key ingredient to good health and a healthy weight. Trying to get a higher plant based diet becomes a challenge for every member of the family- but the effort and the knowledge of the necessity becomes the norm. Children should be aware of the difference between food and food product. Processed foods and added sugars need to be minimized. Sugar drinks are confined to small amounts of real juice.
It is not just about calories; the quality of the food matters. When we treat our body normal- with movement and food, beautiful things happen. Animals and humans have a weight control thermostat in the brain- just like regulating their temperature it works to regulate their energy intake and output (metabolism).
All animals in the wild maintain their adult weight throughout their life span; there is no obesity. In obesity, the regulatory system has become disrupted. In future topics we will explore how this disruption occurs.
Create early habits that promote normal body weight for a lifetime:
1. Instill the concept of mealtime in your children. A family sit down meal is ideal but it is not always feasible. But everyone can develop the habit of mealtime is the time to sit at the kitchen table without the distraction of TV or computer; this includes the after school “meal”. The entire family adopts this habit. Unrestricted snacking promotes grazing habits and mindless eating. Both have been shown to be associated with weight gain in adults. Teaching habits of mealtime can be one of the most important habits that parents can instill in their children.
2. What is a meal? Most meals (for all family members) should contain protein and veggies. Use MyPlate as a guide. Grains should be “whole grains”. Processed grains and added sugars do not add nutrient value; they should be minimal and viewed as a occasional treat, not as the meal.
3. Teach your children how to read food labels. What is in that food? Does it contain added sugars? High fructose corn syrup?
4. Get your child involved in the healthy eating preparation. Family grocery shopping trips, challenges to pick out new veggies to try, reading labels together, cooking together.
5. Healthy Breakfast. Add whole grains (i.e. Steel Cut Oatmeal or Ezekiel toast) and Protein (i.e. Yogurt, Natural Peanut Butter, Chicken, Fish or Egg). Breakfast is a key factor in maintaining normal weight.
6. Drink water. Make it look appealing.
Children need to be taught that sugar drinks can cause harm. The American Heart Association recommends that children and teens drastically reduce sugar intake and get less than 100 calories a day from all sugar beverages (a can of soda contains about 150 cal).
Don’t forget activity. I envision a norm where parents come home from work only to realize they have not gotten enough movement in. They put on their workout clothes and head out for a walk. And of course, if any of their kids have missed their needed activity they know they better join in. Studies have shown that children learn best what their parents mentor.
Every day I work with children and their families that are beginning the struggle of abnormal weight. My passion: help that child get off the abnormal road and onto a road of health before excess weight and preventing associated health issues become a lifelong struggle. Prevention is key.
My message today, the new normal is not just for the child that is showing the signs of weight gain. Every child needs to be equipped for the road ahead. They will sit one day at work, and who knows what types of processed foods or pills will be in easy reach. Give them the knowledge and tools to recognize normal. Mentor to them the drive and need to make taking care of your health a daily part of your life
Dr. Madge Zacharias, Board Certified Pediatrician, has a diverse career in Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine. She graduated did her Medical training and Residency at the Medical Commonwealth University School of Medicine and is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. She practiced in primary care Pediatrics in the Richmond area for 14 years and was voted one of Richmond Top Docs by Richmond magazine.
American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, and National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. Preventing Childhood Obesity in Early Care and Education: Selected Standards from Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards; Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs, 3rd Edition; 2010.