If your favorite is munching chips while watching television, it is likely that you are condoning this behavior for your children, who will naturally follow suit. On the other hand, if family bike rides, hikes and other physically active pastimes, along with healthy dietary habits, define your family, your children will reap the benefits.
As adults, we set the example and sometimes we do not even realize how strong a message we are sending by the things we do or do not do. If we desire our children to be healthy and fit, we must also be healthy and fit.
This is the message that researchers at Duke Medicine are sending as noted in a study published online in the Journal of Obesity. According to the study, children whose mothers ate well and were active were also good eaters and active.
With skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, it is more critical than ever that parents make healthy choices not only for their children but also for themselves. In America, over one-fourth of all children ages two to five are overweight or obese.
According to the study author, although there are cultural and genetic variables at play, clearly environment has a lot to do with the obesity epidemic. What happens in the home can directly influence a child’s dietary and physical behaviors.
Even something as simple as providing access to fruits and vegetables or encouraging children to romp and play outdoors can have a positive influence on the health choices that children make throughout life.
In the study, researchers used data from 190 kids ages two to five who had mothers who were overweight or obese. Food intake data was collected, and children wore accelerometers for a week which measured physical activity and sedentary time.
Mothers provided information about the home environment including policies regarding food and physical activity, access to junk food and availability to physical equipment such as bicycles and balls. Mothers were also asked to rate themselves as far as what kind of role model they saw themselves as.
The results clearly demonstrate the importance of a healthy home and healthy role models when it comes to children’s behaviors. Data showed that limited access to junk food and family meals tended to increase the amount of healthy food that children ate. It was also found that the home environment had more influence over dietary choices than physical activity.
Socioeconomic factors were also reviewed, including whether or not mothers had graduated from college or not. These factors appeared to have little bearing on physical activity and mixed impacts on dietary habits.
Researchers support the need for further study to understand how a mother’s socioeconomic status may impact health. It is thought that different strategies to help prevent obesity in children may need to be applied in relation to a mothers type of employment and education.
Children are Always Watching
This study, and others like it, remind parents that our children are always watching. From the time they are born, we serve as role models and guides in all areas of their lives. Setting the stage for kids to be healthy and make wise choices begins with an acknowledgement of how important a parent’s job really is. Children have no idea how important making good food choices and being physically active is unless we first set the stage.
Tips for Parents
Here are a few tips to help keep you and your children as healthy as possible.
- Offer activities, not food, as a reward.
- Stop buying junk food.
- Take family walks.
- Limit household television and computer use – studies show that kids who spend more than two hours in front of the television are more likely to be obese.
- Work on a family project such as landscaping or building something.
- Help your child find physical activities that they enjoy.
- Eat dinner together as a family.
Duke Medicine (2013, June 18). Parenting and home environment influence children’s exercise and eating habits. ScienceDaily.
American Academy of Pediatrics: Guide to Your Child’s Nutrition. Editors: William H. Dietz, MD, PhD and Lorraine Stern, MD. 1999.