YOU Are Your Child’s Health Role Model

kids and obesityIt’s not uncommon for adults to focus on making healthier lifestyle choices after the new year — but what about our children? Setting a healthy example is proven to reduce weight issues in kids — and it should be a year-round goal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20% of children and adolescents are considered obese — that’s one in five kids. Compared to those of a healthy weight, children with obesity are at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. We know this statistic may be startling — but it’s important to remember that the kids themselves aren’t always to blame. Oftentimes, parents and caregivers set this example for their children by making their own unhealthy lifestyle choices.

READ: Healthy Eating With Kids… Isn’t That a Contradiction?

Above all else, parents should make it a point to eat nutritious meals and make positive lifestyle choices because their children are apt to model their habits, says Stacey DeLanoit, PsyD, a licensed psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health.

“Children imitate and model what they see,” Dr. DeLanoit says. “As parents and caregivers, our choices and behaviors are often a direct influence. That includes what children eat and whether they’re physically active. If parents are making intentional choices to keep themselves physically and mentally well, chances are, the kids will follow suit.”

There are many benefits to sharing a nutrient-dense meal with your children at the dinner table — not only because it’s a wonderful way to bond and spend some quality time together, but also because research has proven that children may find healthy foods more appealing when they are presented and consumed in a positive setting.

Health risks of childhood obesity

As parents, it is crucial to understand how proper nutrition and healthy choices are related to our kids’ overall health. Children who are overweight or obese are more liable to face health challenges such as:

  • High blood pressure and cholesterol, which are both risk factors for heart disease.
  • Joint problems.
  • An increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and heartburn.
  • Breathing issues such as asthma and sleep apnea.
  • Problems with social, physical, and emotional functioning.
  • Depression, low self-esteem, and certain behavioral issues.

Healthy eating starts at home

A healthy lifestyle starts by ensuring that nutritious snacks and quality food choices are available at home. While it’s true that an occasional treat won’t cause harm in the long term, keeping the pantry stocked with a lot of overly processed, sugary foods such as cookies, potato chips, and super-sweet cereals could set kids up for poor eating habits over time. Instead, choosing fresh fruits, vegetables such as cucumbers and baby carrots, and snacks that are high in protein and good fats are likely to keep your child full for longer — and maybe even in a better mood. Win-win!

Although these mindful and intentional choices surrounding nutrition have a myriad of benefits for your kids and your family, Dr. DeLanoit explains that it’s just as important to be careful when it comes to restricting food (unless medically necessary), using snacks as punishment or incentive, and putting pressure on your kiddo to eat.

“Children likely won’t understand why you can eat something ‘bad,’ but they can’t,” Dr. DeLanoit says. “That can lead to confusion, resentment, and entitlement.”

While caregivers should certainly aim to offer a nutritious, well-balanced bowl or plate at every meal, Dr. DeLanoit knows that hectic schedules can make that a challenge, and having an off night or morning on occasion is perfectly acceptable.

“You’re not a failure because your kids ate fast food on a busy night between ballet class and soccer practice,” Dr. DeLanoit shares. “The important thing is they ate. By creating positive and intentional eating environments and being a good role model, you can help your children understand and achieve balance, good habits, and health longevity.”

Help reduce your child’s obesity risk

A Baptist Primary Care pediatrician can offer insight to make sure that your child is in good health from infancy through adulthood. To find the right physician for you and your family, call 904.202.4YOU or fill out the appointment request form.


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