Excerpt from Newsweek, April 25, 2005
When parents and kids eat right and exercise together, healthy homes can be happy homes. If you’re like most Americans, you know you need to eat better. You know you need to exercise. You know you need to turn down the stress level. What many adults don’t realize, however, is that establishing a fit and healthy lifestyle is critical not just for their own well-being – it’s vital for children.
Over the last three decades, childhood obesity has
skyrocketed: today more that one quarter
of all American kids are either overweight or at risk of becoming too
heavy. With the extra pounds come health
hazards: high blood pressure, heart
disease, diabetes. The problem is so
grave that some researchers predict that the life expectancy of today’s children
could shrink by as much as five years.
The key to reversing the trend? Parents. Nobody has more influence over children’s
habits and choices, nobody cares as much about their future. “Parents are role models, there’s no way
around it,” says Dr. Nancy Krebs,
co-chair of the
It’s never too early to start. Some researchers believe that a baby’s first culinary experiences – even before solid foods – could help shape eating habits later on. How? Research suggests that the variety of flavors in a mother’s diet may be transmitted through her breast milk. If a mother is able to breast-feed, the payoff is enormous: in addition to providing a cocktail of healthy nutrients, breast-feeding may help infants develop a more adventurous palate than formula-fed babies. Translation: “Breast-fed infants are more adaptable to new foods like vegetables,” says Dr. William Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, because breast-feeding gives babies control over when and how much they eat, it could help set up a beneficial pattern for regulating food intake as children grow –eating when they’re hungry, stopping when they’re not.
Good eating becomes a far greater challenge for parents once kids progress to solid foods. In a survey of 3,000 infants and toddlers published last year, researchers found that 1 to 2 year olds consume about 300 calories more than they need, and lots of desserts and salty snacks. Seven-month-olds are drinking soda. Among 15 to 24 month olds, French fries are the most commonly consumed vegetable. And nearly one quarter of 19 to 24 month olds are not consuming a single fruit or vegetable in a day. The effect is staggering: over the last three decades, the prevalence of obesity in preschoolers has more than doubled. “Never before has there been a generation so obese at such a young age,” says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital Boston. “The full impact can take decades to be seen.”
Parents, however, can intervene. For starters, nutritionists advise parents to
make healthy eating fun – and to make it a family affair. At the
One of the greatest risks for obesity in children is an overweight mother or father. The link is in part genetic, but the food environment at home is also critical – and it’s the part parents have the power to change. Adults should start by stocking the cupboards with nutritious foods and eating well themselves.
A healthy lifestyle means a fit lifestyle, and that, of course, means exercise. One quarter of all adults get now exercise at all, and half of all kids between the ages of 12 and 21 are not vigorously active on a regular basis. When parents are sedentary, kids grow-up thinking that’s the norm.
Betsy Keller, chair of the department of exercise and sport