Childhood obesity has become increasingly problematic over the years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children struggling with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s, and about one in five school-aged children today are considered obese. This can pose serious health risks including diabetes, heart disease, and asthma.
In the article Consumption Junction: Childhood Obesity Determined Largely by Environmental Factors, Not Genes or Sloth, Tara Haelle explains that in order to fight childhood obesity, we need to reengineer a child’s environment to change what and how they eat. "Evidence is confirming that the environment kids live in has a greater impact than factors such as genetics, insufficient physical activity or other elements in efforts to control child obesity," says Haelle.
So how does one change their child’s environment to promote good health? Here are several ways you can help create healthy eating habits for your children:
1. Involve your child in meal preparation
Make meal prep fun and educational for your little one by bringing them along when shopping for groceries and cooking in the kitchen. You can even use this time as an opportunity to teach them about different foods, measurements, and how to read nutritional labels.
2. Eat together as a family
Help foster healthy eating habits by eating meals together as a family whenever possible. According to the University of Florida, studies show that sitting down and enjoying dinner as a family actually increases a child’s overall intake of fruits and vegetables and that families who eat together tend to consume fewer fried foods and soda. Not to mention the positive impacts that family togetherness has on a child’s development, including their values, motivation, personal identity and self-esteem.
3. Model healthy eating behaviors
Believe it or not, your child really does pay attention to what you are eating, so be a good role model! What better way to encourage your kid to eat healthy than by showing them how much you enjoy doing the same? Sure, this may take some effort on your end, but think of the message you are sending when you tell your child to eat their fruits and veggies as you chow down on junk food. Also, try not to use food as a bribe. While it can be tempting to offer candies and sweets as a reward for good behavior, this can lead to unhealthy eating habits.
4. Cook more meals at home
We’ve all been there: it’s late, the whole family is tired, and it’s so much easier to go through a drive-thru or order a pizza than prepare a healthy meal at home. While there’s nothing wrong with eating fast food in moderation, it’s all too easy to fall into a bad pattern. Instead, make an effort to keep the fridge and pantry stocked with healthy ingredients to make cooking at home easier on those busy days. Give it a try! You’ll see that cooking at home just a few times a week can have some very powerful health benefits.
5. Prepare healthy snacks
Even if you do your best to prepare healthy meals at home, a large portion of the sugar your child consumes comes from snacks. “An explosion of low-cost processed foods and increasing sugary drink serving sizes, as well as easy access to unhealthy snacks in vending machines, at sports games and in nearly every setting children inhabit—these are just a handful of environmental factors research has linked to increasing obesity,” says Haelle. Try trading in sugary snacks for healthier options like celery and peanut butter, fruits with caramel dip, and veggies with hummus.
Hopefully, these tips will help you establish healthy habits for your child in ways that are fun and easy for the whole family.
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