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Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.

DO:

  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation

DON’T:

  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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Forget the old adage “less is more”.  When it comes to fruits and vegetables, “more is less”.  Focusing on more nutrients, fiber, servings, and colors can mean a healthier weight for your child and less tendencies toward obesity and its’ complications.  

There are a lot of quick and easy ways to turn your kids into lean, mean, fruit and veggie-eating machines!   

Don’t be dense, use common sense: When it comes to food choices, fruits and vegetables are a no-brainer.  They are nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense, which allows you to eat more than almost any other food.  And, you get the added benefit of fiber, a nutrient that promotes satisfaction after a meal. Two cups of fruits or veggies contain a similar amount of calories as a 100-calorie snack pack, minus the added fat and sugar. 

Look at the “whole” picture:  Experts recommend that children get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.   This can be accomplished by adding a serving of fruit to every meal, and a vegetable to at least 2 meals or snacks.  Talk about convenience!  Fruits and veggies are the original convenience foods– pre-packaged, pre-portioned, and portable.  Check out the many forms of produce available in supermarkets today.  You’ll get more fiber from whole produce, but frozen, canned in natural juices, juiced, dried, and even freeze-dried fruits and vegetables are great options, too. 

Taste the rainbow: Choosing a wide variety of color for your child’s diet is the best way to ensure that they get a wide variety of key nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are a natural way to add color.  Vary your colors each day and within each meal.

Perception Deception: It’s all about the way you look at things.  Food should provide pleasure, not pain.  Approach eating fruits and vegetables with a positive attitude and your kids will follow suit. Focus on what you get to eat instead of what you think you can’t eat. A healthy outlook and attitude are just as important as healthy behaviors. Studies have shown that focusing on increasing fruits and vegetables is drastically more effective than focusing on eating foods with lower fat and sugar.

Patience is a virtue: The name of the game is exposure.  It may take as many as 10-20 exposures to a new food before your child will find it acceptable.  So if you are trying a new veggie, don’t despair.  Ask them to try a bite, but don’t force them to eat it if they don’t want to.  Just try again another day, or with another food.

Double Duty- The Role Model and Gatekeeper:  Leading by example is the most effective way to change your child’s behavior.  If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, then you need to model this behavior.  Likewise, you are the decision-maker when it comes to purchasing food—if you want more fruits and veggies to be eaten, make sure you have ample choices in the kitchen.

Why Weight? to bring more fruits and vegetables into your home and add satisfying, healthy foods to your child’s diet?  Why Weight?  to take yet another step toward helping your child be healthy?  It’s up to YOU.

 

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Hunger is a primal force, and if left unattended, can create an unhealthy array of habits and eating patterns that can contribute to obesity.   We are born with a natural sense of hunger, an ability to recognize it, and a desire to quench it pretty effectively.  Babies expressly tell us when they need to eat—they cry.  Toddlers tell us by whining, or “melting down”.  Children coming home from school may tear into the refrigerator or pantry, “starving” and desperate to eat.

By adulthood, folks generally have figured out how to manage their hunger–some respectfully honoring their body’s signals and feeding it when the telltale signs emerge.  Others have strategies that help them manage their hunger and ultimately their weight–healthy techniques and not-so-healthy ones.  In my observations, children are not inclined to use the delay tactics and strategic distractions common to adulthood management of hunger.  Hunger, for many children, is POWERFUL.  Naturally, children feel hunger and they seek food. 

Also, children are in the dynamic process of growing and hunger prompts them to eat.  Ever hear of the teenager that won’t stop eating?  How about your friend, the mother of that teen, who is off to the grocery store every two days, just to keep the kitchen stocked?  Children are able to satisfy their hunger, and become self-sufficient at making choices for themselves.  Often, we adults fail to appreciate the power and influence of  hunger in a child. 

What does hunger have to do with childhood overweight or obesity? 

The degree of hunger and the responsiveness to hunger plays an important role in childhood overweight.   Intense hunger, or over-hunger, can occur as a result of long stretches without food, meals that don’t provide enough energy, or an improper balance of nutrients.  Just as a car without gas sputters down the road until it eventually stalls, likewise our bodies drag along, tired and unfocused when nutrition is at bay.  If hunger is ignored or put off, it can cause havoc in a child’s ability to regulate their eating patterns.  Unsatisfied hunger can build, causing overeating and inappropriate food choices. 

For the child who struggles with their weight, overzealous techniques to reduce weight, such as restricting foods and portions, dieting, skipping meals or snacks, or beginning a vigorous exercise plan can backfire, leaving a child hungry and unsatisfied and eventually causing them to overeat.  In the process of weight management, there is a delicate balancing act:  quenching hunger with filling, nutritious foods.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

Respect the role of hunger in the growing child.  Growing children are hungry– eating is variable to accomodate the energy needs associated with growth and development.  Restricting or controlling your child’s food intake may actually cause them to become over-hungry and overeat at other times.

Stay ahead of hunger. Strategically plan meals and snacks to occur every 3-4 hours.  Skipping meals or snacks can be a trap for overeating later on.

Use filling, nutritious foods.  100% whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide fiber–a component of food that keeps you full longer;  sensible amounts of low fat dairy products and lean meats, eggs, nuts, and beans pump up the protein and also give you a sense of fullness.

Load up early.  A nutritious breakfast starts the body’s “engine” and sets the pattern for eating at regular intervals.  Kids who skip breakfast may find themselves hungrier after school and at dinner time.

Power up the protein & fiber in meals and snacks.  Include a variety of foods from at least 3-4 of the MyPyramid food groups at mealtime.  Offer “power snacks” at snack time and include a source of protein and whole grains for a satisfying, “stick to your ribs”,  hunger-defying snack.

A “starving” child WILL eat…it’s up to you to have a strategic, healthy plan in place.  Respect the power of hunger in your child.  Anticipate it.  React when it occurs with healthy, nourishing, satisfying food options that your child can enjoy…WHY WEIGHT?

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The BMI (Body Mass Index) is a tool for understanding obesity and its use in children is growing.  If your pediatrician hasn’t used it at your child’s annual check-up, you may see it in the school setting soon.  

The BMI is an assessment tool that calculates the combination of  weight and height to determine the appropriateness of  a person’s body weight for their current height.  Results of the BMI calculation may include:  underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese.

The BMI is a screening tool developed for populations to determine public health risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.  Its use in children over the age of two has increased due to the rising incidence of childhood obesity.  Most pediatricians are routinely assessing BMI at your child’s annual check-up.  However, less common is the use of BMI as a screening tool in schools.  The BMI as a screening tool for school-age children is gaining momentum–thirteen states are currently using BMI screening methods to help pinpoint, prevent, and reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity.  Will this be effective? 

One of the key elements to the reversal of any trend  is awareness.  BMI data can help build awareness in families, IF it is presented in a responsible way.  Cultural sensitivity to parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight is important.  Evidence shows that some parents perceive overweight as healthier and better for their child.  Linking weight status to health risk is key to building awareness in these groups.  Also, many families have no idea that their child may be gaining too much weight –because when they look around at other children, their own child doesn’t look dissimilar. 

Education about the BMI measurement and its limitations is crucial.  The BMI measurement provides a total body index and does not differentiate body frame size and muscle mass from fat stores.  In other words, you may have a large-framed child that is muscular who may be classified as overweight or obese.  Looking at the child as an individual…what they eat, how they eat, how physically active they are, parents’ frame size, etc. can aid in keeping the right perspective when it comes to your child’s weight and interpreting his BMI result.

Communication of the BMI data results require sensitive wording and resources for parents who want to seek further help for their child.  Presenting this data without resources can be confusing and concerning to a parent.  BMI result information should include local programs and providers who can assist with healthier eating and lifestyle enhancement.

And if you are told your child’s BMI is too high?  Consult with your pediatrician, registered dietitian, or other health care provider to gather information and education that is tailored to your child, family, and lifestyle.  An elevated BMI and the associated risks for chronic disease can be normalized and/or reversed with healthy eating, physical activity, and lifestyle changes.  For a BMI calculator tool, go to http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/.

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