A new study released by the American Heart Association revealed that cardiovascular disease risk is increasing in children. Seventeen percent of children and adolescents in the United States are classified as overweight. We know that being overweight increases one’s risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. However, this is the first study to find that weight increases the risk of chronic disease in children.
Researchers found that children who are overweight are already showing signs of heart disease, such as arterial wall thickness and decreased flexibility of blood vessels – symptoms usually associated with adults. In light of these findings it is more important than ever to begin instilling healthy eating and physical activity habits during childhood.
A healthy lifestyle begins at home and parents need to take an active role in helping children develop healthy habits. If your child is overweight, don’t put him on a weight loss diet. Children have high nutrition needs and cutting calories could prevent your child from consuming adequate nutrients for growth. Instead, encourage your child to eat healthy foods and be more physically active to stabilize his weight so that he can “grow into” it.
It is also important to recognize that children grow at different rates, and if your child is bigger than his classmates, it does not mean that he is overweight. Your physician can help you determine if your child’s weight is in a healthy range. You will find that helping your child develop healthy eating habits is not very different from what you should do yourself.
Start buying and serving more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain products, these are the foundation for a healthy diet. It is not realistic to expect your child to choose these types of foods over junk food, so stock the refrigerator with healthy snacks that the whole family can enjoy. You can also pack these foods in your child’s lunchbox. For a treat, offer your child graham crackers, animal crackers or vanilla wafers.
Children and adults alike consume a lot of empty calories from high calorie, high sugar drinks like regular soda, drink mixes and juice. Cut these beverages out and replace them with low calorie, nutrient dense options like water and low-fat milk. If your child is resistant to this change, start by diluting these drinks with water to cut the calories and then gradually decrease the amount of the sugar drink and increase the amount of water.
Encourage your child to eat breakfast every day. Children who skip this important meal can have difficulty concentrating in school and may be hungry, tired and looking for unhealthy snacks later in the day.
Try to eat healthy meals as a family at home to help your child enjoy a variety of foods and decrease the amount of fast food your family eats. When enjoying a meal at home, leave the serving dishes in the kitchen instead of placing them on the table. If you have to get up from the table you may be less likely to take a second serving. This eliminates unconscious eating, which is easy to do when the serving dishes are sitting in front of you.
And finally, know that it is okay to let your child eat junk food once in awhile. But these instances should be the exception rather than the rule and should not be used as a reward for good behavior, grades or for eating healthier foods.
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Published On: November 27, 2006