Childhood obesity is a huge problem in America. 17.3% of children ages 2-19 were found to be obese from 2010-2011, according to JAMA Pedeatrics. More and more parents are wondering how to prevent their own son or daughter from going down this path. With exercise and nutrition being the two key factors for this issue, when is a good time to start teaching your children about healthy living habits?
For most I think this begins from day 1. Even though it’s not structured teaching they are learning by watching what you do as well as what you feed them. Building a solid foundation for your child’s nutrition is essential. Also, having them participate in physical activities helps to teach them the importance of exercise.
Ideas for initial healthy habits:
- Breastfeeding as long as possible. I understand this is not always possible but if you have a choice I would choose breastfeeding over formula. Research suggests that if a baby is breastfed they are less likely to become obese later in life
- First foods consisting of vegetables and fruit. Preferably homemade or at least organic
- Involve them in your physical activities. (Exercising at home, taking them to a class that allows children to watch or participate in simple outdoor backyard type games)
Preschool age is a great time to incorporate healthy life lessons. Children are beginning to understand better logic and reasoning at this age as well as becoming good communicators. They are sponges to any knowledge they can get their hands on.
Ideas for preschool age healthy habits:
- Providing whole food snacks and meals
- Keeping processed treats and sugary foods to a minimum
- Providing an environment that encourages hands on play rather then lots of tv/screen time
- Lead by example, show them the importance of a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising regularly
When children enter the early grade school years much of your parental control of food and physical activities slips into the hands of the teachers. For this reason it’s so important to educate them early on with how to make smart choices when it comes to foods to eat. Outside of school hours they can be involved in sports but honestly I believe the best is simply playing with friends and family. Structure does help in many situations but also having a pick up game of basketball or a game of tag can keep a child active, as well as yourself.
Ideas for early grade school age healthy habits:
- Continuing to provide whole food snacks and meals
- Educating them on the importance of body movement/ exercise. Some kids may respond better to organized sports while others may enjoy more free movement like running around in the backyard, making up a dance or simply climbing trees
- Weekend fitness activities like hiking, playing in a park, summertime swimming and bike rides
- Lead by example. This one never goes away. I still look at my parents as examples in ways to live a healthy life. My dad is an exercise fanatic and my mom has learned that eating a vegan type diet helps to alleviate many of her ailments that impacted her daily life
To summarize the answer to the question, “When to begin teaching children about healthy lifestyle habits”, I would say start from day 1. Over time as children grow up, mature and have better reasoning and communication skills the “teachings” will change as well. Also, if healthy habits weren’t a part of a child’s early years I believe it is never too late to start. Just like an adult who has struggled with obesity their entire life doesn’t mean they can never learn to live a healthy lifestyle.
What tips have helped you with your kids to keep them active and eating healthy?
I hope you all enjoy this Memorial Day weekend and don’t forget to get out and play!