Here are a few common habits that we accidentally pass along to kids that facilitate weight gain and how to remedy them:
- Giving them too many liquid calories throughout the day: According to the journal, Pediatrics, kids take in an average of 270 calories per day (approximately 10-15% of their total caloric intake) through sugary beverages such as sport drinks, soda, and fruit juice boxes. Most of these contain empty calories and a low amount of nutrients, which will not trigger a 'full' feeling' as solid foods do. In addition, the large caloric intake can add excess weight fairly quickly.
Instead of letting your child fill up on these, give them water, low-fat/skim milk after two years of age, and diluted 100% fruit juice. Avoid giving your child soda and sports drink at all and limit the amount of sugary fruit juice. And remember, kids look up to their parents, so avoid drinking these yourself - be a role model and get healthy :)
- Being a member of the 'full plate club': "You need to eat all your food before you leave the table." Does this sound familiar to anyone? Or the less PC version of "Eat all your food - there are starving kids in Ethiopia." If you are saying these things or anything similar to your kids, STOP NOW. Most children (unless they are picky or problem feeders) will stop eating when they are full. These 'full' cues are something that get pushed and ignored too often, and I personally believe that this is part of our societal obesity problem. The next time you go to the kitchen to get a snack or grab a drink from the vending machine at work, ask yourself if you are actually hungry, thirsty, or are you just bored/doing it out of habit. Our bodies are highly complex and AWESOME machines that actually tell us when we are truly hungry, however, we don't always listen...enough of my soapbox though...so, DO make sure your child is getting adequate nutrition, however, don't push when they are full or you are setting them up for a lifetime of overeating.
- Rewarding with dessert: To keep this simple, don't reward with food, especially dessert. When you give a kid ice cream or a cookie because they ate their carrots, it is giving the healthy food a bad connotation.
- Sticking to kid-friendly foods: Chicken nuggets, pizza...easy and kid-friendly, but unhealthy for regular dinners. Make and serve a variety of foods early so that kids get used to different textures, tastes and smells. Kids like what they know and what you expose them to early on sticks, so make it good!
- Sticking your kid in a stroller or a baby sling/backpack: Yes, I realize this is easier when you are in a hurry or in a dangerous place where you don't want your kid walking and accidentally wandering. However, we need to encourage them to move, exercise and develop good motor skills, even if it just sitting before they can walk and playing with toys while you do dishes to start developing fine and gross motor skills. Remember the vicious cycle between obesity and motor skills: kids that are obese have decreased motors skills. However, this is a chicken and egg situation. Not sure how it starts, but kids with more weight have greater trouble with and tolerance for physical activity, and are less likely to try out new things. This decreases the likelihood they will get involved in sports or exercise, they become more sedentary and gain more weight...and it goes on and on...
- Using the TV as a babysitter: I recently read a study and am blanking on where it came from, but kids today use and watch technology and media (TV included) on average for approximately 7-8 hours per day. This is astounding and what's even worse, is that they are usually eating snacks absent-mindedly (again, not using the hunger cues, just eating). Engage your kids in after-school activities and sports and keep TV screen time limited to 2 hours per day max. Computer/cell phone/tablet time can be addicting and should be limited to a 1/2 hour or less of 'fun surfing' time.
- Allowing late bedtimes: There are numerous studies that show a direct link between sleep and obesity/overweight - the less sleep, the more weight gain and this is obviously another vicious cycle. Ask your family physician how many hours of sleep your child should be getting for his or her age, create a bedtime routine and stick to it. Good sleep is one of the most important activities for a young and growing child.
Check back tomorrow for a post on motiviation and how to get yourself moving toward health!!