By: Debraha Watson, Ph.D.
Healthy eating behavior must be introduced in early childhood and continue throughout life. Food and nutrition choices promote optimal childhood physical and intellectual development; preventing diseases such as diabetes, obesity, eating disorders, heart disease and tooth and gum disease. Being overweight in childhood is also associated with bullying and low self-esteem.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period. Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.
First Lady Michelle Obama speaks frequently about kids’ health, nutrition, and fitness. However, many adults may not know that obesity in children is an epidemic. Many of us grew up hearing that “the chubby baby was the cute baby, or that no one wants a bone but a dog.” I had to belong to the clean plate club and I snacked on soda and potatoes chips, rather than water and apple slices. It wasn’t until I became a middle aged adult diagnosed with diabetes that I paid attention to healthy eating and physical activity. I not only had to change my habits, but I had to ensure that I passed healthier eating habits on to my children.
At the Mayor’s Summit on Food Deserts, Chicago, 10/25/2011, Mrs. Obama reminded us that “We all grew up in communities with grandmothers who cooked two, three vegetables that you had to eat. There was no ifs, ands or buts about it. But that’s because many of our grandparents, had community gardens; there was the vegetable man that came around. There were many other resources that allowed them to have access. So it’s not that people don’t know or don’t want to do the right thing; they just have to have access to the foods that they know will make their families healthier.” We must ensure that we continue to provide education to our communities and increase their access to healthy, fresh, affordable food.
Let me leave you with some strategies that we can all employ to keep ourselves healthy:
- Reduce salt ,sugar and fat intake
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain
- Adults serve as role models by monitoring our weight and exercising with children
- Use incentives and verbal praise to reinforce healthy eating
- Allow children to help with food preparation and snacks. Even allowing them to come up with their own healthy recipes.
- Encourage children to try unfamiliar and culturally diverse foods that are low in sodium, and added sugars
- Go “old school” and start a garden allowing children to see the beauty of nature at work.
- Advocate for healthy food choices in school cafeterias and vending machines
- EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE………….
A suggested but not all inclusive list of healthy foods that children can prepare and enjoy:
- Fresh fruits
- Raw vegetables with low fat dip
- Cinnamon or Peanut Butter Toast
- · Fruit & Cheese Kabobs
- · Yogurt Parfaits
- Ants on a Log (celery, peanut butter and raisins)
- Low fat cookies such as fig bars, gingersnaps, animal crackers
- Micro-wave popcorn
- Whole grain bread with peanut butter or low fat cheese
- Low sugar cereals
- Snack mixes of dried fruit, raisins, nuts and seeds