Health habits start early in life
By Guest Columnist Stephanie Duguid
Every parent wants the very best for their children. Helping them cultivate healthy habits that last a lifetime is an important part of assuring that happens, and it must start the at the youngest possible age.
Many habits, like consuming the right foods and beverages and physical activity, can have a profound effect on the quality of their lives and their likelihood of developing major illnesses later in life, including heart disease. It is important to kids off to the healthiest possible start.
In recent years, we have seen the very troubling emergence of obesity as a national health crisis affecting adults and children as well. Nearly one in five children is obese. Not only do overweight adolescents have an average 40% (and up to 80%) chance of becoming obese as adults, but as children obesity is causing them a broad range of physical health problems -- high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels -- that previously were not seen until adulthood. Excess weight at a young age has been linked to higher and earlier death rates in adulthood. Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are also problems, and obese children as young as three years old show indicators of developing heart disease later in life.
There is no quick and easy solution to childhood obesity. But children who grow up in healthy environments have an advantage. If they have constant access to playgrounds or are encouraged to go outside rather than play video and other computer games or watch television, physical activity is more likely to become a way of life for them. If their meals at school and at home are rich in fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to pass on unhealthy snacks and processed foods. Together, parents and the community can make a positive difference by helping to steer more kids along the healthiest possible path.
Here are a few tips to help children develop healthy habits:
Make dinnertime a family time: When everyone sits down together to eat, there is less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Get your kids involved in cooking and planning meals. Have fun picking out new fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. Focus on lean proteins and whole grains. Look for foods with the American Heart Association’s trusted Heart-Check mark to make smarter food choices. Everyone develops good eating habits together, and quality time with the family is an added bonus.
Get the whole family moving: Plan times for everyone to get moving together. Take walks, ride bikes, go swimming, garden or just play hide-and-seek outside. Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time together.
Curb television, video games and computer time: With them coms a sedentary lifestyle and excessive snacking, which increase risks of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Limit screen time to two hours per day.
Learn to love the labels and focus on proportion: Read food labels, as they provide essential information. Pay attention to portion control in the package and at home. Pre-pack healthy snacks by keeping fresh fruit, veggies and healthy nuts on-hand.
Be a good role model: You don’t have to be perfect all the time, but if kids see you trying to eat right and getting physically active, they will take notice of your efforts. You will send a message that good health is important to your family.
Learn more about how to help your family be healthier at heart.org/healthyhome. Keep up with annual appointments and physical examinations, tracking the important numbers such as blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol readings. In addition, Body Mass Index (BMI), body fat percentage, and height-weight charts can help monitor progress as well as any challenges that may arise related to health. By staying current and up to date regarding your healthy information, you can avoid developing life threatening conditions.
With our busy lives, it is challenging to focus on healthy eating and daily physical activity. Make a commitment today to focus on your health!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephanie Duguid is Dean of Academic Instruction at Co-Lin. She is also an athletic trainer and nutrition specialist and has been teaching courses related to those two areas as well as practicing what she preaches for more than twenty years.