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Archive for March, 2010


They say bad habits start young…

We have discussed many of the practices and behaviors that can contribute to childhood obesity already, from too much soda consumption and not enough fruits and veggies to portion distortion and excess screen time.  There are other practices, independent of actual food selections and portion sizes, that can evolve into habitual behaviors.  These behaviors may take on a life of their own and when they do, can be a contributor to childhood obesity.

The Sneaker. “My mom yells at me if I snack in between meals.  But I am so hungry at night…when my parents go to bed, I go to the pantry and get the box of cereal.”

The Hoarder. “I hate being hungry, but mostly I feel hungry, especially at lunch.  I carry extra granola bars and crackers in my backpack at school and store them in my locker.  Oh, and I have some candy hidden in my closet, too…. just in case I get hungry.”

The Hider. “My parents are really focused on eating healthy and exercising—they never eat anything bad for them.  When I want bad foods, I definitely make sure they don’t see me eat them, because I would get in trouble or they would dissapprove.  It stinks to eat alone, but that’s the only way I can eat the foods that I like.”

The Offsite Overeater“We never have anything good to eat in my house, but when I go to Johnny’s house, his mom has everything!  I just can’t help myself…”

As adults, many of you can probably identify with some of these feelings and behaviors…maybe these remind you of your own childhood struggles.  The seeds for the above behaviors are planted at a young age.  Parents have the difficult job of balancing healthy eating and food with food security.  How can you assure your child is secure about food, is getting enough to be satisfied, and is avoiding the bad habits that can sabotage healthy eating and weight?

Be a great provider:  Stock your kitchen with a balanced variety of foods.  Avoid the extremes in food—all healthy or all “junk food”.   Prepare enough food at mealtimes to satisfy your family’s appetite, and keep a schedule for meals and snacks—this helps avoid excess hunger.

Avoid “good” and “bad” food labels:  Positive and negative food labels can confuse children and set up conflict in their minds—how can my teacher eat “bad” food?  How can this food be “bad” when it tastes so good?  It’s best to keep a neutral attitude about all foods.

Tune into hungerHunger varies with children and children want to eat when they are hungry.  Putting off hunger can lead to overeating—either in an obvious way or in a secretive way.

Family-style meals:  Do you want your child to eat what they need and leave the table satisfied?  Offer a variety of food groups in serving platters and bowls, and allow your child to determine if and how much food they will consume.  You get to determine the health and quality of the foods you serve.

Encourage eating in the open:  Don’t shame your child if they want to eat.  Help them find a satisfying snack, and if able, sit with them while they eat it.  Children should not have to hide when they want to eat in order to avoid a parent’s disapproval.  There is no shame in eating; we all have to eat to live.

Address bad habits openly:  Don’t be afraid to speak to your child lovingly about bad habits.  You might learn that your child is not eating enough or properly…which is something you can work with your child to solve.  Alternatively, your child ends up navigating the situation on his own, and perhaps in an unhealthy and unsuccessful manner.

Why Weight? to help your child prevent the damage that can spring from bad habits?  It’s up to YOU.

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Children love to move.  And need to move.  And let’s face it, kids need lots of physical activity to maintain good health and a body weight that is right for them, along with plenty of healthy food options.  Lack of daily physical activity is a strong contributor to childhood obesity.  These perspectives and guidelines may help your child become more active:

The Physical Prescription:  Duration, intensity, and type of activity do matter.  While any movement is better than none, experts recommend at least 1 hour of physical activity per day, both planned activity and free play.  No longer is walking the dog adequate, experts want to see children sweaty, red-faced, and breathless every day.  If you are relying on school efforts, be aware that daily recess and physical education varies from school to school and may not be a significant contributor to your child’s daily activity level.

Nurture with nature:  The number one predictor of physical activity in children is time spent outdoors.  Get outside as a family and encourage your child to play outside as often as possible.  

Get in gear:  Let your child pick out their own active wear, shoes and sports aids.  Whether an independent exerciser or part of an athletic team, children enjoy having gear that supports their activities.  Who doesn’t love running to music?  Or shooting baskets in the driveway?  Having the right gear can rally excitement around being active and can promote movement.  For the teen, gym memberships, pedometers, and exercise groups/classes can be a positive motivator, as well.

Walk your talk:  More than 40% of a child’s health is determined by behavior.  That’s more than genetics, healthcare, or social influences.  You are your child’s behavior barometer—your child will do what you do.  So get moving on getting moving!

Breaking down barriers:  Identify any road blocks that may get in the way of your family’s activity level, such as busy work schedules.  Find solutions, not excuses, for how to deal with these road blocks that will fit your unique family circumstances.

Be Tech Savvy:  If your child is having a difficult time giving up video games, try compromising with ones that are more active and interactive.  Hands-on video games, TV exercise programs, and interactive websites can be the beginning of increased activity for your child.

Physical activity is a necessary part of being healthy and having a healthy future.  And often, one avenue of activity is not the magic pill—it is a conglomeration of several efforts, each and every day.  Why Weight?

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Clang, Clang, Clang! 

My great-grandmother had a red bell.  And she used it to announce a very important event: Dinnertime.  A time when everyone in the family joined together, gathered around the table, and ate.  Dinnertime was a priority–all work stopped, after-school activities were over, and the phone and TV were silenced.  The family gathered and discussed the events of their day.  It was a time, in modern terms, to download, to debrief, to get centered and figure things out.  Supportive therapy?  Challenge sessions?  Debunking untruths?  Confirming beliefs?  Mealtimes were therapeutic.  Healthy and good for you in more ways than one.

Magic is possible when families gather at the meal table.  Family meals have been shown to be a powerful influence on many facets of childhood–growth, development, social adjustment, behavior, eating habits, and body weight.  Not only do family meals have a positive effect on eating healthier, they also help children maintain a healthy weight.

But that’s not all!  Read on  for the magic of family meals

Attachment:  Children of families that eat meals together feel more supported, secure, and safe.

Behavior: Family meals are a great way to teach manners, promote communication, and prevent behavioral problems.

Reciprocity:  Conversation, both talking and listening, may be more important than what is actually served or where your family eats.

Adjustment: Children who eat with their families frequently show better social skills and ability to navigate social situations.

Confidence:  Family meals promote trust between child and parent, a key element in nurturing healthy eating.

Academics:  More family meals per week = better grades.

Development:  Healthy and positive family meals promote a healthy weight and normal growth in children.

Acquisition:  Manners are learned at the meal table–sitting down frequently allows ample teaching time and helps your child learn their manners.

Breakfast:  Any meal will do!  Dinner isn’t the only opportunity for a family meal.

Relationship: A positive relationship with food and eating is cultivated at the meal table.  This is a life-long attitude, belief, and flexibility with food that begins early.

Achievement:  The benefits of family meals are realized with 4-5 meals per week

ABRACADABRA!  It’s magical.  Why Weight?

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No doubt most parents have savvy school-aged children who are able to navigate the web, program their iPhone, and operate the family plasma TV.  It is certainly true that we live in a technological world, and this is obvious in our children.  With the advent of advergames (advertisements on video and computer games) and advercation (advertisements on educational websites and games), children are lured to return to the “screen” to continue “playing”—but they aren’t playing like they used to!   Literally, children are letting their fingers do the walking.

What is “screen time”?   “Screen time” is a term to describe the variety of technological devices to which children are exposed for general entertainment.  “Screen time” encompasses anything with a screen–the TV, the Nintendo DS, the computer, the phone, the iTouch, the iPod, and the like. 

How does “screen time”  influence childhood obesity?  Researchers show a strong correlation with the number of hours spent watching TV to an increased prevalence of obesity in children.  If your child spends more than 2 hours in front of the TV per day, he/she is at greater risk for being overweight.   The effects of TV viewing and “screen time” results in overeating and lowered energy expenditure (calorie burning).   Have you ever watched a movie with a bowl of popcorn and consumed the entire bowl?  The TV is a powerful distraction when it comes to eating sensible amounts.  Additionally, sedentary behavior, or sit-down time, promotes a lower calorie burn  than moving (activity).   It’s simple:  TV and screens promote more sit-down time which results in less activity and overeating, leading to a higher potential for weight gain. 

Simple steps to curb your child’s TV/”screen time” appetite:

Remove the TV and other screens from the bedroom:  Children with TV’s in their bedroom watch a lot of TV!  The presence of a TV in a child’s bedroom is one of the leading indicators of excess “screen time”.  Removing the TV and other lurking “screens” will curtail the number of hours your child is inactive…watching TV, playing video games, and laying on the bed listening to the iPod.  

Limit all “screen time”:  The recommendation for reasonable “screen time” is 2 hours per day maximum; homework-oriented, computer time does not fall within these limitations.  Each family has unique dynamics and demands on their time—consider parameters around “screen time” limits that will be advantageous to your child, ie., the school week is focused on school work, projects, and educational endeavors.

Start early:  Limits on “screen time” should begin as early as 5 years of age.  This makes sense–toddlers and pre-schoolers are moving creatures–when we use the TV or “screens” to entertain them, we are training them to be sedentary!

Emphasize hands-on, active endeavors:  Cultivate an attitude of “let’s do” rather than “let’s see”.  Be an active parent–your children will mimic your active and your sedentary behaviors.

A little bit goes a long way:  Any modification and limit you can make around TV and “screen time” will be an improvement!  Be realistic with what you can tackle, without too much rebellion from your child.  Get “buy in” from your child–if children have other, fun things to do in lieu of “screen time”, they will be more accepting of the new “screen time” limits.

A reduction in “screen time” and TV viewing helps every member of the family and it provides an opportunity to get moving.  Help your child let their feet do the walking, not their fingers.  Help them have greater opportunities for movement and activity, rather than ample sit-down time.  Why Weight?

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