Helping Children Become Healthy Eaters With Debbie Bright
I posted recently via Instagram and Facebook about the reality of obese babies and how mothers are addicting their children to sugar while still in the womb.
Many of my followers were very open to receiving the facts — and while it did strike up some emotional self-inflicted shaming (see realization of diet) for several mothers and mothers-to-be, the uprising birth weights of babies leading to C-sections is undeniably linked whether we are willing to own our sugar intake or not.
Regardless of what happened in utero, there are several options that parents, relatives, and caregivers can utilize to ensure these little humans grow up with healthy eating habits postpartum.
Healthy adulthood is based functionally on the foundation of healthy eating habits established in childhood.
With childhood diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes soaring to outrageous levels, it is obvious that we need to pay far more attention to nature’s most potent drug — food.
We must begin rebuilding America’s health by instilling good eating habits in our youth to create a healthy future.
Healthy and non-healthy eating preferences develop as soon as babies transition from breast milk or formula (health issues related to formula are concerning on their own) to being fed whole foods.
The decision for nutrient intake is entirely up to parents and caregivers, which is why it is so valuable that nutrition is understood by anyone handling a child.
It is important to introduce a variety of flavors and textures to the young palate, especially nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables and fruits while avoiding nutrient-robbing sugary and processed foods such as candy, cookies, pizza and fast-food options.
Parents need to recognize the importance of building a preference for healthy foods that aid in the prevention of developing chronic disease, which is now showing up much earlier in our lifespan.
Take a stroll through the grocery store isles and note how many foods are marketed for infants and toddlers — all comprised of added sugars, refined grains, unhealthy fats and artificial colorings, flavorings and preservatives.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has data consistently showing that, “children consume too many high-calorie food and drinks such as whole milk, fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages, dairy and grain desserts, and pasta dishes, which contribute ~40% of total energy to their diets.”
This information for children’s diets align identically to that of the ‘Standard American Diet’ or adult diet by which we now know is contributing to the obesity epidemic and all the metabolic diseases that follow suite.
It is by far not rocket science to see the correlation between the health issues presenting in children and the health issues in adults as our diets are merely the same…and we have sugar to blame.
Did you know that sugar is eight times more addictive to the brain than cocaine?!
Introducing sugar into a baby’s diet is one of the biggest insults to the human body, possibly destroying any chance he or she may have at building a foundation of good health.
This is especially true when sugar intake is a staple in a parent’s diet because subsequently, their children are exposed to it meal after meal and snack after snack.
Children fed sugar-sweetened beverages such as fruit juices, flavored milk and soda have higher risk markers for metabolic syndrome, including increased body fat around the waistline, high triglyceride levels, an increase in bad cholesterol (yes, there are both good and bad!) and increased blood pressure.
Behavioral studies show that children develop eating behaviors through familiarization, association, and observation, meaning that an early introduction of sugary snacks and beverages will cause preferencing in a child’s food choice and will also be reinforced as unhealthy patterning when parents and caregivers model poor food habits.
One of the biggest pitfalls that set children up for failure is the rewarding of good behavior or boredom with sugary snacks.
Children learn by observation, therefore, it is critical that the social groups associated with the child instill healthy behavior.
It is crucial for parents to realize that their home environment and parenting play a major role in the development of their children’s eating habits.
Young children and early adolescents consume nearly 65 percent of their daily calories at home, therefore the food behaviors learned in the home are associated with overall diet quality outside of the home and thus contribute to overall healthy living.
Foods prepared and consumed outside the home are the primary source of unhealthy calories, added sugars and rancid fats that are contributory to the growing obesity epidemic.
Prepping meals in the home is the best way to ensure both high-quality nutrition and meal education.
Children enjoy being involved in meal planning and this is a great way for bonding in the household.
Mealtime is a great opportunity for parents to demonstrate positive role modeling of healthy food choices and for them to exercise guidance in portion control as well.
While on the topic of demonstration, it is imperative that parents understand what makes a perfect plate as well as the science behind when to eat:
- Consume a total of three meals a day (four for a high-performance athlete).
- Eat every four to six hours with no snacking between meals for blood sugar stabilization.
- Eat a combination of clean protein, healthy fats, and fiber from vegetables to support your hormones.
Fitness and weight loss expert, JJ Virgin designed a ‘Perfect Plate’ diagram that acts as a wonderful portion control guide for adults and can be utilized on a smaller scale for children.
It is important to remember that counting calories is old school science and when you eat to support your hormones you never have to track calories because, as JJ states,
“Our bodies are chemistry labs, not bank accounts.”
Contrary to some beliefs, children respond well to authoritative parenting in food choice and eating behaviors and there are positive health studies to prove it.
According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “children who described their parents as authoritative ate more fruit per day, fewer unhealthy snacks per day, and breakfast more days per week than did those who described their parents as neglectful.”
Another study supported this conclusion by revealing that “a permissive feeding style, which is highly responsive to a child’s requests and sets few demands on him or her…was associated with child intake of LND [low-nutrient-dense] foods.”
Finally, a systematic review of the relationship between parenting practices and weight-related outcomes in children found that, “children raised in authoritative homes ate more healthy, were more physically active and had lower BMI levels, compared to children who were raised with other styles (authoritarian, permissive/indulgent, uninvolved/neglectful).”
Collectively, these reports emphasize the importance of adult guidance and direction in building a strong foundation of healthy eating habits in children.
More often than not in today’s fast-paced society parents are quick to skip breakfast, feed kids on the run, order fast food or throw something processed in the microwave.
Childhood nutrition and overall health continue to decline and red flags are being raised in regards to the major upswing in disease presenting at such young ages.
Infant obesity is very much a real issue and instilling healthy eating habits in America’s youth needs to happen with the very next meal if we are to see a turning point in the failing health of our nation.