We all want our children to grow to become healthy, happy, thriving adults, right? Well, where is this secret formula? How do we protect our children from falling risk to chronic diseases? There isn’t a perfect recipe, but there are evidence-based interventions that we can employ in our homes to develop healthy habits in our kids that will help give them the healthiest future possible.
The Growing Problem
Prediabetes is when your body has started to become resistant to insulin and your blood sugar is too high, but it is not high enough to be considered full on diabetes . . . yet! It is letting us know you don’t have type 2 diabetes yet, but if you do not change something, then you will. According to the CDC, one in five children have prediabetes in our country.
Childhood obesity rates are almost identical to prediabetes: 1 in 5. And it’s no surprise why we continue to see rising cases year after year . . . Say the dreaded words with me: SCREEN. TIME. It is recommended that children have no more than 1 – 2 hours of sedentary screen time per day, but the average child now spends 4.5 hours per day and teenagers spend about 7.5 hours per day on screens according to the World Health Organization. YIKES! Activity levels normally drop once a child turns 12 years old. So, it is in the younger years that we must help our kids develop habits of exercise so that it is a normal and expected part of life as a teenager, helping them avoid obesity and all the associated risks — heart disease, asthma, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, and chronic joint pain. I think we can all agree that this long list of problems is not something we want our children carrying into adulthood.
The Evidence-Based Solution
Based on countless research studies, we know that 60 minutes of physical activity daily and a nutritious diet can prevent obesity and prediabetes. Since we know this to be true, we want our kids to have these habits developed when they are young so that as they grow, they can continue to lead healthy lives and, eventually, have healthy families. Healthy habits are generational. They will extend through your kids, into their kids, and so on, creating a legacy of health for your family. What a great investment!
The Interventions to Employ
The main intervention we can employ to fight for healthy futures for our children is helping them create healthy habits. A habit is something that we naturally do without having to think about it. It is our “go-to.” And habits are hard to change. We want to start our children off with those habits early so that when they become teenagers and adults, the healthy choices are their “go-to” without even having to think about it.
Only 13% of children are meeting the recommended activity requirements. At least 60 minutes per day, our children should be engaging in physical activity and they should only be spending 1-2 hours sedentarily on a screen. There are many options for this, and many of them can be enjoyed by the whole family together. Here is a brief list of ideas:
- family walk after dinner instead of t.v. time
- family workouts (here is a great one on Youtube.)
- involvement in community or school sports
- celebrations and rewards revolving around activities instead of food (dessert, ice cream, fast-food)
- birthday and holiday gifts geared toward physical activities instead of screen time activities
We shouldn’t present activity/exercise to our children as a chore but as a typical expectation that is it normal to keep our bodies moving and not stay sedentary for the majority of the day. Keep it fun and encouraging. Our attitudes will set the standard for how they will view exercise as they get older.
The CDC has given us an example of what a perfect plate should look like.
I don’t know about y’all, but my plate rarely looks like “the perfect plate.” But that is the great thing about healthy eating habits — they can be so individualized to fit your and your family’s life! Here are some big nutrition mistakes we should guard against:
- eating in front of the t.v. (this article reports that children that ate with their families at the table had a significant decreased risk in obesity)
- eating fried food daily
- high sugar, high salt snacks (potato chips, cookies, brownies, muffins, candy)
- little to no vegetables
- prioritizing high carbohydrate foods (potatoes in any form, rice, pasta, bread)
Healthy habits to start:
- water as the normal drink with a meal
- half of the plate filled with non-starchy vegetables
- choosing grilled chicken/fruit/salad options when eating out
- whole food snacks (e.g. fruit with peanut butter, hummus and carrots, ranch and celery)
As we all continue on in striving for our children’s health and happiness, I hope this article gave you some new perspective on the role you play as a parent in protecting your children from chronic diseases. May we all have grace for ourselves and one another as we work on making healthy changes for ourselves and our families!