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How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Children

by | September 26, 2019

There is no question that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic and a public health crisis. As September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we cannot let this month go without addressing this growing problem. We want to provide those of you who are parents, those who work with children, uncles and aunts, and all adults who interact with kids, with simple, practical techniques that will help the children in your life achieve and maintain best health, and set a foundation of healthy eating habits.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, for the first time, life expectancy at birth was lower than the previous year in the total U.S. population. The leading causes of death were heart disease and cancer. Both heart disease and many types of cancers are related to obesity. Starting healthy habits early will set your children up for not only a longer lifespan, but also a longer healthspan – the number of years they live healthy lives.

Unfortunately, the odds of setting our children up for success are against us. According to CDC, about 1 in 5 (19%) children in the United States has obesity.

Childhood obesity can be attributed to multiple factors. The most significant factors responsible for this rapid rise in obesity include increased portion size, snacks, increased consumption of processed foods, sugar and fats and inadequate physical activity. Other risk factors include family, psychological, socioeconomic and genetic factors. Besides causing adverse health effects, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and asthma, childhood obesity can result in social, cognitive and emotional consequences, such as lower self-esteem, mood disorders and poor academic performance.

To help parents and caregivers who are wondering, how they can promote healthy nutrition habits, my colleague, Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran and I created a video on how to convert picky eaters into healthy (and happy!) eaters and how to encourage healthy eating habits in children.

As a mom, I know how hard it can be to implement new habits. It is not an easy process, especially when our culture encourages us to have processed treats, sugar, fast food and snacks. Introduce new habits, one by one. Start with the habits you feel most comfortable with. Small interventions go a long way. For example, you may say to your children that they get to pick which of their “sometimes” treats they will have at the next birthday party they attend. For example, you may give them a choice to have a piece of cake or juice. A 12 ounce glass of orange juice contains up to 9 teaspoons of sugar, which is 36 grams of sugar. This is the same as a 12 ounce can of Coke. Let’s do a calculation: if someone has 1 glass of orange juice daily, over the course of the year, this is 3,285 teaspoons of sugar (almost 14 kg of sugar)! This is 53,394 extra calories per year! If you are wondering about missing out vitamin C in orange juice, let me assure you: the risk of this excess amount of sugar and lack of fiber far outweigh the benefit of vitamin C in orange juice. Offer an orange instead. This is just one example, but it illustrates that with each habit that we create that is not serving us, the impact over time is significant. We need to choose our habits wisely and encourage our children to do so as well!

HERE ARE OUR TOP 12 TIPS:

1. Parent decides what foods and drinks to serve

2. Kids decide which of these foods to have and how much

3. Involve kids in food preparation, reading labels and understanding where their food comes from

4. Serve vegetables first, then serve the pasta (if you are not sure if your child will ever finish those veggies)

5. Encourage your kids to eat with other kids who have healthy eating habits

6. Have as many meals a week together as a family

7. Role model mindful eating (e.g., avoid eating while watching TV)

8. When you offer snacks, offer healthy ones (see our video for ideas)

9. Have meals at the same time daily

10. Encourage your children to tune into their bodies to determine if they are full

11. Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad”. You can talk to your kids about foods that are healthier vs foods that are “sometimes foods” or “once in a while” foods.

12. Besides nutrition, be mindful about nourishing relationships, family quality time, adequate sleep and physical activities!

I promise, these tools will work if practiced consistently!

To calculate your child’s body mass index (BMI) and find out the BMI percentile, and weight status, you may go to the CDC website. I encourage all parents to speak to their child’s pediatrician if they have any concerns, or are uncertain which category their child’s weight is in.

Nothing stated or posted in this article is intended or should be taken to be the practice of medical or counseling care. The information made available in this article, including, but not limited to, interviews, text, graphics, images, links to other articles, websites, and other material contained in this article, is strictly for informational and entertainment purposes only. The information in this article is NOT (and should not be used as) a substitute for professional psychiatry, psychology, medical, nursing, or professional healthcare advice or services, nor is it designed to suggest any specific diagnosis or treatment. Please always seek medical advice from your physician or a qualified health care provider regarding any medical questions, conditions or treatment, before making any changes to your health care regimen, medications or lifestyle habits. None of the information in this article is a representation or warranty that any particular drug or treatment is safe, appropriate or effective for you, or that any particular healthcare provider is appropriate for you. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking help from a health care provider due to something you have read or seen in this article. Your reading/use of this article does not create in any way a physician-patient relationship, any sort of confidential, fiduciary or professional relationship, or any other special relationship that would give rise to any duties. This article does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, healthcare providers, procedures, or treatments, and if you rely on any of the information provided by this article, you do so solely at your own risk.

About the Author

Dr. Bojana (Boy•ana) Jankovic Weatherly is an award winning physician, double board certified in internal and integrative medicine. After completing internal medicine residency, she did a fellowship in integrative medicine, trained in functional medicine, nutrition and mindfulness. Her approach is rooted in evidence-based medicine that is personalized to each individual she works with.

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing stated or posted on this website is intended or should be taken to be the practice of medical or counseling care. The information made available on this website, including, but not limited to, articles, websites, videos, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website, is strictly for informational and entertainment purposes only. The information on this website is NOT (and should not be used as) a substitute for professional psychiatry, psychology, medical, nursing, or professional healthcare advice or services, nor is it designed to suggest any specific diagnosis or treatment. Please always seek medical advice from your physician or a qualified health care provider regarding any medical questions, conditions or treatment, before making any changes to your health care regimen, medications or lifestyle habits. None of the information on this website is a representation or warranty that any particular drug or treatment is safe, appropriate or effective for you, or that any particular healthcare provider is appropriate for you. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking help from a health care provider due to something you have read, heard or seen on this website. Your use of this website does not create in any way a physician-patient relationship, any sort of confidential, fiduciary or professional relationship, or any other special relationship that would give rise to any duties. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, healthcare providers, procedures, or treatments, and if you rely on any of the information provided by this website, you do so solely at your own risk.