Children are like sponges. As early as infancy, they begin soaking up everything around them. They are constantly on the prowl for new and exciting stimulation, they touch everything, taste everything and ask about every noise. Their endless energy keeps them moving way beyond what we adults can keep up with. They are desperate to learn and they continually look to the adults around them to help lead them to these new experiences.
Adults are quite different. We are set in our ways. We often avoid change in order to make our hectic lives a little easier. We pass on the opportunity to learn new talents or start new hobbies because we don’t have time or it would be too hard or we are simply too exhausted. As the old adage goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, and we don’t even have to be very old in order to get set in our ways – I first noticed myself resisting change in my early twenties.
Many of the habits we as adults have formed have a direct impact on our health. Over the years, we tend to move less and sit more. We drink less water and rely on caffeinated beverages and sugary snacks to get us through the days. We utilize convenience foods for meals to save time, and we neglect to get enough fruits and vegetables. We decompress by sitting on the couch and watching television for hours at a time, and we put errands before exercise on our lists of priorities. When we do try to make healthy changes, we realize how hard it is and eventually revert back to our old ways.
As anyone with kids knows, it doesn’t take long for those little sponges to start mirroring adult behavior. And once they start forming the same habits we have, the more likely they are to fall into unhealthy habits as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. These kids are more likely to be obese as adults, and are at a higher risk for health problems as adults, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, several types of cancer, stroke, and osteoarthritis. These findings show that childhood is a highly influential time period when it comes to the overall health of our nation.
Fortunately, more is being done in schools, though slowly, to help educate kids on the importance of exercising and eating well. In Virginia, where my own kids attend public school, a Joint Subcommittee has been established to study childhood obesity in Virginia’s public schools. This committee has recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week for students in all grades. The committee will also examine methods to increase parental involvement and education and work with other states to determine useful practices in combating childhood obesity.
Many schools also establish wellness programs which help to educate children and parents on healthy lifestyle habits and create school-wide events which encourage physical activity. At my kids’ school, students who are overweight or obese are offered extra time for exercise after school. School lunches have come a long way in terms of offering fresh produce and lower-fat options. When our kids are offered the chance to establish healthier habits on a regular basis, they are more likely to continue those habits.
Health education, though, begins well before school-age. Establishing healthy habits is important well before kids begin school. Remember, we parents are set in our ways. But our kids have an enormous capacity to learn healthy habits.
Giving our Kids a Better Chance at Health…
Here are a few simple ways we can influence our kids to make healthy choices:
Encourage movement. Kids love when their parents play with them, so why not start a dance party or a game of tag? Explain to them why exercise is important to the body.
Include a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal. Explain why fruits and vegetables are good for our bodies and make sure your kids see you eating them!
Choose water. Sugary juices and sodas are okay sometimes, but making water the go-to drink in your home will help kids form a great habit early on.
Eat sweets in moderation. Show your kids that sweets should be limited to one or two servings a day, and only after a proper meal has been eaten.
Healthy kids have a greater chance of growing up to be healthy adults. When we choose to be active and eat healthier foods, they are more likely to form those habits. With enough time, our own old habits will turn into new, healthy ones.