Encouraging Healthy Habits

By Christine Bannister Moore

It is no secret childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic in our country.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, today’s children are much less physically fit than previous generations.  In the United States alone, the percentage of obese children has more than doubled since 1976. 

This alarming increase in overweight children stems from a variety of factors.  Busy schedules leave less time for home-cooked meals, physical education is on the back burner in schools and TV captivates our attention in the evenings.   

Despite the assortment of factors affecting your child’s weight and overall health, the strongest contributor of unhealthy influence may be the most overlooked: parental influence. 

No one is pointing a finger at parents saying, “You made your child fat.”  However, there is no denying that parents are the single most influential people in a child’s life.  Your position on everything, from money matters to fashion sense to politics is picked up by your child and reflected in their own attitudes and decisions.  This includes eating habits, views on exercise and even unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking. 

Whether you or your child is overweight, underweight or perfectly average, there is no time like the present to take action and use your influence to encourage a healthy lifestyle for your family.

So what can you do to set a positive example your child can follow?   

To begin, reflect on your own opinions and ideas about what being “healthy” means to you.   Marine Corps Base Quantico Dietician Tammi Impellitteri, suggests parents analyze their own behaviors when assessing a child’s unhealthy habits and/or risks of obesity.  Ask yourself:  What is my exercise regimen?  What are my eating habits?  What healthy or unhealthy activities do I do in front of my child?  Is being healthy and active important to me?  What, specifically, do I do that reinforces my answers to these questions? 

Before talking with your child about their weight or your family’s health, carefully examine your answers to these questions to better understand why your child might be accumulating unhealthy habits. 

The next step is to take control.  Hold a family meeting to discuss your concerns about the family’s lifestyle and habits.  Take great care as to not single anyone out.  Acknowledging one child’s eating and activity habits over their siblings’ may increase levels of insecurity and feelings of being left out or different.  Even if just one of you needs to lose a few pounds, being healthy is a goal for the entire family.  Then, as a group, decide the changes you will make to better your lives. 

Next, set goals as a whole and for individuals.  List things that the entire family needs to work on, like getting more exercise, watching less TV, eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day, or cutting down on sweets.  Then tackle individual objectives.  Write down what you wish to accomplish and devise a way for tracking and acknowledging completed goals. 

Make your goals a priority.  If you decide the entire family is going to take walks after dinner, but a special presentation of child’s favorite movie is on TV, what do you do?  Perhaps you take that walk before the movie and eat during the show.  Do sit ups, pushups and even stretches during the commercials.  Or simply decide that getting the exercise is worth missing the first 20 minutes of a show your child has already seen.  Make sure your family understands healthy behaviors come first. 

Nothing is tougher than walking the walk.  If you don’t stay true to your decisions and goals, your child likely isn’t going to either.  If your child never sees you eat broccoli, go for a walk or put down that donut in exchange for a banana, why should they?  Certainly don’t try to convince your child that you can break the rules, but they can’t.  Set the goal, set the example and stick to your guns. 

One of the best ways to express your influence over your family’s health is at the grocery store.  Make sure what you buy is inline with your healthy decisions.  No snack cakes in school lunches or soda pop at the dinner table.  Send homemade peanut butter crackers to school and serve milk at dinnertime instead. 

Last, but not least, be sure to take time for yourself and enjoy several of your own activities.  When a child sees you going on afternoon bike rides or morning jogs, the idea of a healthy lifestyle is reinforced tenfold.   

Use your influence to make positive changes in your family’s lives and help your children avoid the downfalls of an unhealthy lifestyle in the future. 

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corp Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run.

The Marine Corps Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run will be held on October 30, 2004 in Arlington, VA and is an exciting and safe way for kids to participate in an organized running event and be exposed to the joy and satisfaction of being a physically fit individual.  Visit them on the web at www.marinemarathon.com.   Christine Bannister Moore is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon.

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