Raising Healthy Kids

My wife and I were recently standing in line at the grocery store preparing to purchase our bounty of goods for the upcoming week. As I loaded our vegetables, organic chicken breasts, buffalo steaks, nuts, and fruit onto the belt I couldn’t help but examine what the young mother in front of me was removing from her cart. This woman, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, was carrying an extra 150+ pounds of body fat and was accompanied by two miniature versions of herself, both who looked to be under the age of 10 years. As I observed what this woman was loading onto the belt I couldn’t help but be appalled by what she was planning on feeding herself and her family in the upcoming days. From her cart came Cheetos, boxed dinners, white bread, cookies, frozen pizzas… the horrifying list goes on…. To add insult to injury she finish off her shopping trip by adding a Snickers Bar for herself and two bags of M&Ms for her pleading children. In this column, I discuss healthy eating for kids and the concern for the growing rate of obesity and early onset Type II diabetes.

After leaving the store that day I couldn’t stop thinking about that young mother and her seemingly doomed children. Sadly, I realized that the “food” being purchased by that woman was no different than the food being eaten by countless other families across America. It really is no wonder that over 30% of adults and almost 20% of adolescents are currently obese in this country! In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine recently told us that for the first time in recorded history our youngest generation has a shorter projected lifespan than the generation before them. This means that the food choices that young woman was making would not only end up affecting her health, but could also shorten the length of her young children’s lives.

I come in contact with countless people looking to lose weight, change their eating habits, and improve their health. Many of these people are parents with children at home; children who would also benefit from changing their eating habits. One of the most common comments/questions I receive after helping these parents revise their eating habits is “Now what do I feed my children because there’s no way they are going to eat like this”. While I understand this dilemma, I wonder when we started giving our children the responsibility of making decisions for their own health and welfare. When little Johnny goes out to ride his bike do we allow him to choose whether he wants to wear his helmet? When little Susie gets in the car do we let her decide if she wants to buckle her seat belt? No we don’t because the majority of the time they would choose to do what’s more comfortable for them and not wear their helmets, not buckle their seat belts, and eat cookies and candy instead of chicken and green beans.

It seems that many parents forget that they are responsible for making decisions and setting examples for their children. If a child grows up with fresh fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats in the house and regularly watches his/her parents eating these foods then these are the foods that child will also eat. Children don’t develop tastes for things M&Ms, Cheetos, and McDonald’s until their parents feed them these “foods”. Likewise, if a child goes to the pantry in search of food and finds things like Pop-tarts, Doritos, and fruit snacks they will choose to eat these things over a piece of fruit or handful of nuts. The simple solution is to not bring these toxic substances into the house, leaving the kids no choice but to opt for healthy food options.

Granted, the children will eventually leave the house to face cafeteria lunches, vending machines, and fast food restaurants; things parents (sadly) have little control over. However parents do have the ability to empower their children with the knowledge, habits, and resources to make healthy food choices whenever possible. The kids may complain at first when their chips and Pop-tarts are replaced with fruit and nuts, however they will benefit from these changes and after a while they may even begin to voluntarily choose these healthy options without you having to nag, plead, or bribe them to do so.

Dr. Kremer, DC, CCSP®, CSCS

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