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Although people’s awareness of the importance of a healthy diet is on the rise so are the doubts surrounding how to achieve one. Despite all the information available, much of it is contradictory which has made for more misinformation. One of the areas where I see the most doubts is regarding Children’s Diets.
This is no small thing! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Obesity Rate in children and adolescents increased from 1% to 6-8% between 1975 and 2016, and the number of obese people between 5 and 19 years old increased tenfold worldwide.
In Spain, it is also a Public Health issue. Even though we aren’t the ones with the highest percentage of people who are overweight and obese in Europe (those are Greece and Italy), we are still among the first. According to a study carried out on the pediatric population in Spain (Aladino), 23% of children are overweight on average and obesity is around 18%.
Quite alarming isn’t it?! Especially as this has been a trend on the rise.
The key things to prevent children from being overweight and/or obese are diet, physical activity, and school and community programs focused on this subject.
Why all the fuss?
Many people don’t take the issue too seriously and often say things like: “he’ll grow out of it”, “when she stands up straight she looks skinner”; but this is because they really aren’t aware of the serious complications that being overweight or obese in your youth can have on you in the future.
- They are more likely to remain overweight or obese
- They are more at risk of serious health complications, and developing diseases at an early age; as is currently seen with heart disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus (a disease that a few years ago did NOT exist in children).
Taking action early will help them to maintain a normal weight and improve their quality of life from childhood onward.
So, Whose Fault is it?
I could write a post just answering this one question, however- in a nutshell,-the causes that seem to me to have had the biggest impact are:
- The so-called “modernization of food”, which has based the majority of the food we eat on products that are over-processed and loaded with sugars, sweeteners, dyes, and preservatives.
- Misinformation by those who are responsible for feeding children both at home and at school.
Misinformation that comes from believing in statements and slogans that sell a product as “organic”, “no calories”, “sugar-free” … but that is actually full of preservatives, sweeteners, and trans fats. All of which leads to mistrust and confusion.
I invite you all to start questioning the benefits of the products they try to sell us through all their advertising and to be more curious about what we buy!
Genetic Factors: Myth or True?
Although obesity comes from some genetic influence, it’s a disease that’s also influenced by external factors such as diet, physical activity, and socio-cultural issues.
We need to stop hiding behind the “it’s genetic” excuse- although there are a few exceptional cases, the majority however are NOT. Many people justify eating a diet of fast food and high sugar content by saying: “it runs in my family, we’re all chubby” or “even if I diet I won’t lose weight”. This is not the case, things simply don’t work like that!
Remember that weight is NOT the only thing that determines if we are healthy or not. Furthermore, nutrigenomics ( the study of the relationship between human genes, nutrition, and health), has shown that our genes can be altered throughout our lives through our diet.
The power to change things is in our hands, or should I say on our plates!
Break The Cycle Of Obesity
If we want to reduce the risk of being predisposed to obesity (or other illnesses), we must start by changing our lifestyle and that of our loved ones; children’s diet being a key issue here.
If there is a predisposition in your family for obesity by changing your own habits you can be reducing the risk for future generations. Which in my opinion is the opposite of what has been being done? Absurd isn’t it?
Focus On The Solution Not The Problem
Although genetic influence is a factor, they don’t control everything, for better or worse. Evaluate if your children’s current lifestyle is aligned with a healthy future, free of illnesses, and obesity. If it’s not, then it’s time to get to work!
In summary, external factors will be the best way to fight and reduce the number of children who are overweight or obese: diet, physical activity, and the environment.
Healthy Children’s Diet:
First, it’s important to understand that the requirements will change depending on the age of each child. However, there are some overall general recommendations when it comes to children’s diets:
- Avoid being obsessed with being skinny: Of course, it’s important for our children to be a healthy weight, but it’s also very important that they don’t obsess over it; this can cause bulimia or anorexia. Food is something to share. Kids should not feel excluded when they meet up with friends or feel guilty about eating something “unhealthy”; if they decide not to eat something it should be because it was a choice that they wanted to make and they should feel comfortable with their decisions.
- Fruits and veggies in numbers! They are one of the main sources of vitamins and minerals essential to growth and development. Teach your child to see fruits as the ideal dessert or perfect snack (even as salad ingredients), and use vegetables as sides to other dishes for a complete meal. Also, include them as ingredients to make other dishes like pancakes (look at my blog for more ideas!). They’re options that don’t take up too much of your time but they really enrich the quality of your meals!
- The more variety, the better! More variety on your children’s plate will help to guarantee that they are getting all the nutrients they need to grow; it will also help familiarize them with all these kinds of foods early on, that way they are less likely to reject them later on. Mix up the fruits and vegetables you buy and alternate how you pair them together. Make sure to include foods like sweet potato and yucca which are higher in fiber.
- Don’t forget about protein: It is essential in forming our organs and tissues and remember, their’s are still growing! Take advantage of their love of eggs and the versatility of dairy products ( which can be a very practical snack option).
- More Fiber Equals More Health: A good intake of both water and fiber will improve the digestive system and will help to control spikes in blood glucose levels. Fruits, veggies, and whole grains are your best allies.
- Drink water between your favorites: It’s important to start educating our children to NATURALLY reject products with high sugar content like soft drinks and juice. Instead, we can make flavored water at home with fruits and natural infusions and thus give them healthier beverage options.
- Lead by example: part of our children’s behavior is formed based on what they see (monkey see monkey do). So if, we not only take care of our children’s nutrition but also of our own, our success rate will be greater!
- Make a plan to achieve your goals: Our current lifestyle doesn’t leave much time for important activities like properly feeding our children. Doing some weekend meal prep will make the weekly cooking easier and faster and will keep you from improvised unbalanced and unhealthy meals.
Cut Back On Obesogenic Environments And Encourage More Physical Activity
Children who grow up in more “obesogenic environments” are more likely to be overweight. More and more this kind of environment is becoming more popular (watching TV, playing video games, being on the computer), and on top of that unhealthy foods that are high in sugar and fat (popularized by marketing) are becoming more present in places like school cafeterias.
It is important that as parents we seek to create healthier environments for our children To do this we can:
- Encourage physical activity by signing them up for a sport
- Guarantee that they are eating healthier snacks
- Promote the sale of healthier foods at your child’s school
The Best Tool: Prevention Based Education
After all, today’s busy lifestyle and the influence of social media make it difficult to control our children’s diets. So an education in children’s health is essential to ensure that our children adopt healthy eating behaviors. Speak with them about the importance of eating healthy. They will understand!
On the other hand, don’t forget that our responsibility as parents does not end with making their food, but we must also ensure that nutritional programs are implemented in our children’s schools that allow for parents and teachers to work together hand in hand
in order to modify unhealthy behaviors, and adopt healthy lifestyles.