An alarming number of children today are facing health issues that were either unheard of, or were only isolated issues just a few years ago.
Childhood obesity has tripled over the past 20 years and become a national epidemic. Kids are less active and consume an excessive amount of processed, packaged foods.
As the rate of childhood obesity continues to rise, so do the number of children with severe health challenges such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer —conditions that were once confined to only adults.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine:
“Obesity is (such) a problem that this generation of children could be the first basically in the history of the United States to live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents.”
The same problem is prevalent in Canada.
It’s understandable that in today’s fast-paced world, it can be very challenging to balance family, long work hours, overscheduled activities and social obligations. Especially where technology can dominate our lives —whether it’s email, text messaging, cell phones, TVs with 1000’s of channels, video games or any of the other technology trends out there.
While technology can and has made our lives easier, it can also pull our attention and time away from our health — and the health of our children.
Our hurried lives also make it difficult to consume balanced meals and many of us frequently eat on overdrive.
We skip breakfast, eat on the run and/or grab something quick and easy, often from a fast food outlet. In fact, the average person today exists on convenience foods. We seem to measure meals by minutes—if it isn’t fast, it typically doesn’t fit into our schedules.
Although our kitchens are bigger and better equipped than ever before, fewer families prepare home cooked meals. Long work hours and irregular schedules mean more time away from family, less time for food preparation and difficulty in maintaining regular meal patterns.
Cooking has become a chore. Who has the time (or energy!) to prepare meals when we can buy something already prepared to toss in the microwave?
Instead of sitting down to a quiet, homemade dinner with the family like we used to, parents are rarely at home at the same time as their children.
Instead, children are left with a frozen dinner waiting for them, or they’re given money to buy whatever they feel like after school. As a result, convenience foods have become an integral part of many people’s regular diet despite the fact that we recognize that these types of “foods” are detrimental to our health.
Studies show that children of families that frequently eat fast-food dinners also tend to make poor food choices at home—they are favoring chips and soft drinks over fresh fruit and vegetables. This can signal the start of a lifelong struggle with obesity and the health problems associated with being overweight.
Processed foods are devoid of nutrients.
No matter what the advertisements say, they are full of sugar, salt, saturated fats and chemicals to give them a longer shelf life. (Real foods don’t have labels) Most processed foods are nothing but empty calories—good for business, but not good for our health!
A healthy diet is essential in helping children grow and develop correctly, and parents play a significant role in shaping their children’s eating habits— habits that can last throughout their lives.
Along with providing a loving environment, teaching children healthy eating and lifestyle habits should be a priority in our long list of parental tasks.
We need to make nutrition a priority and set good examples for our children by preparing and eating a variety of fresh real foods.
If you are making and eating healthy foods yourself and do not have junk food in your home, your children will learn to like the foods that you are giving them.
Most parents go to great lengths to keep their children safe. We hold their hand when crossing the street, teach them not to touch the hot stove and tell them not to talk to strangers. Yet, the majority of parents feed their children harmful, refined food without considering the consequences.
Simple habits can go a long way to help guide your children to better health choices:
- Always have an assortment of fruit available in the house and ensure that it is cut-up and peeled for easy access.
- Include vegetables as part of every meal. Fresh veggies such as baby carrots, cucumbers and sprouts are light, tasty and nutritious.
- Kids love smoothies. Blended drinks are also a wonderful way to slip in nutritional “extras” such as hemp and chia seeds without them even knowing
- Prepare foods with your kids. Including them in the process can be a fun way to bring the family together and give you an opportunity to talk to them about healthy eating.
- Talk to your kids about healthy eating to help them understand the connection between food and health.
- Prepare some healthy dishes in advance so that you have some healthy options already made the following day.
One of the best gifts we can give our children is a strong nutritional start.
The choice is ours. Remember, good nutrition starts at home and if we don’t teach our children healthy eating at home, we’re setting them up for a lifetime of poor nutrition and substandard health.
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Assist Ed: Julie Garcia/Ed: Bryonie Wise