Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Children need healthy role models

Do you ever feel like you’ve got a “mini-me” following your every move?

Perhaps your daughter wants to put lipstick on like mommy or your son wants to wear a tool belt like daddy. Parents are the most important influence in children’s lives.
Our children look to us to learn proper behaviors. Just as children pick up positive habits – saying please or thank you – they can also pick up attitudes about food.

As role models, parents need to be aware of their own behaviors so that their children acquire healthy attitudes toward eating. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Do you snack all day long?
• Do you eat in front of the TV?
• Do you eat whenever you are stressed or bored?
• Do you eat dessert at every meal?
• Do you skip breakfast?
• Do you have soda rather than milk at your meals?
• Do you diet all the time and have a fear of food?
• Do you make negative comments about your body?

If you’ve answered “yes” to more than a few of these questions, you are likely sending unhealthy messages to your children.

Establishing healthy habits can be very difficult for children who received mixed messages. Healthy eating won’t be seen as important if it’s not something mom and dad are doing. For example, research has shown that young girls are more likely to drink milk if their moms drink milk.

The following list offers tips for a healthy home that will foster healthier eating and activity habits for you and your children:

• Have nutritious foods available. Eat and prepare foods with the kids.
• Allow treats in moderation.
• Limit screen time with the TV, computers and video games to two hours or less per day.
• Be active for an hour or more each day.
• The whole family is in this together; don’t single out any one person.
• Be lenient and complimentary. A 2006 study conducted my Boston University’s School of Medicine found that the children of overly strict parents are five times more likely to be overweight.
• Expose, don’t coerce. Children avoid unfamiliar foods, not just healthy ones. Keep putting the asparagus on the plate, and don’t get angry if it goes untouched for two months. Eventually children may take a nibble on their own terms.
• Don’t demonize foods. Don’t necessarily talk about healthy foods, just provide them. Kids learn by watching you, not from lectures on saturated fats.
• Don’t talk diets. It may seem harmless to say you “need to cut down on candy to get back in shape,” but it introduces the defeating notion of “going on a diet.” Eating well and making healthy lifestyle choices need to be viewed as life long goals, not temporary solutions.

While it’s unrealistic to expect any parent to be a perfect role model, trying your best to demonstrate healthy lifestyle habits will positively impact your child.

Actions speak louder than words -- so practice what you preach. Hopefully the “mini me” that idolizes you will pick up on these healthy habits:

• Never skip meals.
• Take moderate portions.
• Try new foods – offer, but don’t force your child to try them.
• Turn off the TV when eating.
• Limit junk food in the house.
• Drink water or low-fat milk instead of soda.
• Learn new strategies to handle stress that don’t include eating.
• Eat fruit for dessert.
• Include vegetables and fruits with meals and snacks.

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. E-mail Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

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