Eating Tips to Prevent Obesity in Children

Heart disease and hypertension have their roots in childhood. Not only do obese children have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels than normal weight children, but lifestyle habits are formed during childhood. Children who are brought up as couch potatoes and junk food addicts will grow up into adults with ingrained bad habits and will eventually have weight problems even if they are not overweight as children. Therefore, it is vital that children are taught good eating and exercise habits not only to prevent obesity in childhood but adulthood as well.

When is a child considered overweight?
Though there are different assessment standards, most experts agree that a child is considered overweight when he or she is 20 percent above the normal weight for that height and age. This is easily confirmed by checking with your pediatrician or family doctor for the appropriate height-weight charts.

Seek professional advice.
If you want a specific diet plan that lists the exact amounts of food and the correct balance of nutrients, seek the professional advice of a registered dietician or nutritionist. The eating tips listed here are practical strategies designed to complement that type of advice.

Set a good example.
For better or for worse, parents are role models for their children. It's true that a family can be genetically predisposed to being overweight but scientists believe that the lifestyle habits of the parents also play a major role.

If you want your kids to have healthy habits, you will have to take an honest look at the way you are living your life because kids will follow what you do and not what you say.

Exert your parental authority.
Parents hold the key to preventing their children from becoming overweight because they exert the greatest control on a young child. Mothers, in particular, control what is bought at the grocery and how the food is cooked at home. Both parents decide what restaurants the family will frequent in their leisure time. Use your parental authority wisely and do not allow your children to eat food that contain more preservatives and artificial ingredients than health-building nutrients.

Do not put the child on a "diet".
Do not put a child on a restrictive caloric diet because you can stunt their growth and develop in them an unhealthy attitude toward food, which can lead to an eating disorder. This doesn't mean, however, that you should encourage gluttony or allow your children to eat as many snacks as they want in between meals. What it means is giving them the appropriate amounts and types of food that they need for their specific stage of growth. This information is available from a nutritionist or from the many books written about children's health and nutrition.

Do not focus on weight loss.
It is true that it is unhealthy for a child to be overweight but you don't want to give the child the wrong message about food and exercise by constantly harping on weight loss. Sensible eating habits and regular physical activity should be encouraged for health's sake not just for weight loss.

Encourage; do not nag.
Nagging an adult to lose weight doesn't work and neither does it work for children. Your role is to be an encourager, not a nagger. Encourage your kids to eat healthy food by making sure it is tasty, well prepared, and easily available at home.

Limit visits to fast food restaurants.
Children do not understand that high-fat, high-calorie fast food products are not the best nutritional choices. All they know is that these types of food taste good. To keep calories under control, limit the number of times you take your children to fast food restaurants. If you have to take young children with you to the mall, be sure and feed them a healthy meal before you go so they won't "demand" that you take them to the nearest fast food joint. If you are also trying to lose weight, this will work for you too.

Strategically plan grocery visits.
If you have to take your children with you while grocery shopping, try your best to avoid passing the aisles with the candies, cookies and other high-calorie snack food. Staying in control of food cravings while grocery shopping is easiest if you make it a rule not to shop when you are hungry.

Avoid eating in front of the TV.
Experts say that both adults and children can end up eating more than they should if they eat in front of the TV. This is called "mindless eating" because the mind is preoccupied with the TV program and is not aware of how much food is actually being eaten.

Don't bring "problem" foods home.
This is the simplest and most effective way to get rid of unwanted calories at home. It is also the best way to introduce your children to good nutrition. You may not be able to control what your kids buy in school during recess or lunch but you control their breakfasts, meriendas and dinners, not to mention all meals during weekends. If your home is full of things like candy, chocolates, chips, cookies, cakes, and ice cream, what do you think your children will eat? If one were allowed to inspect the homes of overweight people or people with overweight children, chances are you would find many food products that are very high in calories and very low in nutrients.

Provide your children with a healthy and nutritious food environment at home by stocking up on fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals and bread, lean meats, poultry and seafood, and low-fat dairy products. Serve natural fiber-rich foods for snacks instead of high-sodium, high-fat, high-calorie processed snacks. Healthy examples are boiled corn, boiled or baked sweet potato (camote), boiled or baked bananas, and homemade oatmeal cookies.

Don't force children to finish their food.
Children have a built-in appetite mechanism that is surprisingly accurate, according to experts. As long as the child has enough physical activity and is not being given high-calorie snacks in between meals, children instinctively know how much to eat. Weight loss experts say that parents who always force their children to eat even when they aren't hungry are tampering with this appetite mechanism and the children grow up into adults who don't know when to stop eating.

Be aware of "emotional overeating".
When there is stress and tension in a child's life because of family or school problems, they can be prone to "emotional overeating". Just like adults, children can turn to food as an outlet for their frustrations. The child's emotional health will have to be addressed before you can begin to solve the issue of overeating.

Do not use food as a bribe or reward.
Children who are comforted, bribed or rewarded with food grow up into adults who use food to comfort themselves when they are stressed out or to reward themselves when they have finished a project at work.

Start good eating habits early.
Avoid giving pre-school children non-essential food items like lollipops, candy, ice cream, soft drinks, and chips. Children develop a tendency for a "sweet" or "salty" tooth at this age. Experts say that if young children are not allowed to get used to these strong tastes, they have a better chance of developing good eating habits because their taste buds will not crave these types of foods.

For this strategy to be successful, however, you shouldn't have these items in your home. Some people say it is 'cruel' to deprive children of these 'goodies' and that a home without these food products is 'abnormal'. My question is, who is more cruel - the parent who 'deprives' the child to teach proper nutrition and instill good eating habits or the parent who gives the child all these 'goodies' and sets him or her up for a lifetime of health problems due to poor nutrition and obesity? Next week: Exercise Tips to Prevent Obesity in Children

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