Healthy Eating: More Than Just Obesity Prevention

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I just read a new study that reported obese children are far less likely to finish school than peers of average weight. Sadly, many are bullied, have a poor self-body image, don’t sleep well, have breathing problems, and have high blood pressure. In the U.S. alone, 30 percent of kids are considered to be overweight or obese. That’s a staggering number.

In my book, The Smart Parent’s Guide*, I reported that the American Heart Association found that the plaque buildup in the neck arteries of obese children or kids with high cholesterol was similar to that of forty-five year-old adults. So we have 13-year-olds already at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

This is not acceptable and there’s so much we can do now to improve the emotional and physical well- being of our kids down the road.

Start early and be consistent, (though it’s never too late to make changes.) I recommend giving childrenwater early on as the beverage of choice to quench thirst. Having a sweet palette all the time can lead to trouble.

It was recently reported in the Journal of Nutrition that kids 8 to 15 who drank soda had higher cholesterol levels. Sugary drinks can lead to higher levels of triglycerides (or fat in the blood) and to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. What makes things complicated is that many of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets, like ketchup. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains about 10 teaspoons sugars.

Here are some more of my Dr. Jen tips:

  • Limit 100 percent fruit juice, if any, to six ounces a day, and just give at one meal, notthroughout the course of the day, even if diluted. Why? Because not only is it bad for the teeth but you want your child to get used to the unsweetened taste of water. Steer clear of sugary fruit punches and soda
  • Start every day with a healthy breakfast. For best results include lean proteins, whole grains and healthy sources of fats.
  • Never say “clean your plate!” or offer food as a reward.  It’s not about volume; it’s about the quality and variety of food. Kids do tend to self-regulate and know when they are full.
  • Make healthy foods and snacks appealing and easy. Resist the temptation to rely on cookies, chips and other processed foods as the go-to family snacks
  • Skip the multitasking when it comes to eating and practice mindful eating instead. Don’t let your kids watch TV or stare at the computer while they are eating. On average, kids will eat 167 extra calories per hour and usually it’s junk food.
  • Say no to coffee or energy drinks. Most flavored drinks have more sugar than soda, and quite a lot of caffeine, too. 
  • Encourage your kids to be active; have them strive for an hour of heart pumping physical activity each day.

Most importantly, set a good example. Model healthy eating and drinking habits and your kids will likely follow your lead….eventually.


Sources:

Study presented at a European Congress on Obesity in Prague, May 6, 2015.

Journal of Nutrition, as reported in Time, September 2, 2015

The Smart Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, Accidents by Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD.