Avoid Weight Problems In Children

Although, not a well publicized statistic, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past two decades-15% of American children are obese according to the U.S. Obesity Task Force.

With TV commercials bombarding children's minds with 'junk food' options and fast food restaurants enticing parents to 'take a break' from tedious cooking by offering toys or a play room, staying on a healthy eating plan is difficult. In addition, playing outside is a distant thought if children are accustomed to using T.V. the computer, and a plethora of video games as fun activities. Couple this with no P.E. in school and parents have an up hill climb.

There is good news, however. Humans are born with the most important effective weight management tool-a hypothalamus, which helps to regulate the amount of food required for maintaining optimum health and weight.

The main function of the hypothalamus is homeostasis, or maintaining the body's status quo. Factors such as blood pressure, body temperature, fluid and electrolyte balance, and body weight are held to a precise value called the set-point. Although this set-point can migrate over time, from day to day it is remarkably fixed.

If you have cared for or observed infants and young children, you know that it is difficult to make them eat when they are not hungry-and it is almost impossible to deal with them when they are hungry. Toddlers in perpetual motion sometimes eat only small amounts of food, but they eat frequently enough to meet their needs, because at this juncture their natural weight management tool has not been overridden or indoctrinated with poor nutrition habits and eating practices.

You have probably noticed that during periods of rapid growth, particularly the teen years, children may be hungry all the time. When their calorie requirements decrease, they lose interest in food-thus they avoid eating more than their body needs.

The bad news is if parents have poor nutrition habits and/or use food to soothe emotional pain, or numb out pain-a.k.a. mindless eating, children will be indoctrinated with these poor habits and practices. For example, if parents or caregivers feed a baby to calm them every time they cry, the baby soon learns that eating is the only way to receive soothing for discomfort. When they are given food to keep them quiet or busy, they learn that they can distract and entertain themselves with food.

Once a child begins to sit at the table, well-intentioned parents sometimes play games and praise the child to encourage them to eat the food they think the child needs. They may say, "Good boy, you ate all your dinner!" or "What a good eater you are!" This is a wonderful time for creating positive feelings about mealtime, but this praising activity also teaches the child that when they eat, it makes mommy and daddy happy.

Some parents urge an older child to eat everything they are served by saying, "There are starving children in (insert name of country)." The child then ignores the physical discomfort of being full in order to comply with the parent's expectations and win their approval. Sometimes parent's insistence to eat certain types and amounts of food backfires, and mealtime becomes a battleground of intense power struggles.

Another well-meaning parental tactic to encourage eating is "Clean your plate or you don't get dessert." Children may realize that since their parents are bribing them to eat, the food must be "less than desirable" and that dessert is the reward for eating 'less than desirable food' and more than their body is hungry for. The result is a potential lifetime membership in the 'Clean Plate and Obese Club.'

The bottom line is that although meeting children's basic nutritional needs is critical, it is important to provide meals and snacks in a way that respects the child's hunger and fullness cues and teaches them that food is simply for fueling their body. If not, the stage is set for junk food eating habits and weight problems in the future. The keys to help your children thrive and avoid overriding their food management tool include:

? Respect your child's internal cues of hunger and satisfaction.

? Avoid junk food-Yes, I know it is difficult to be the 'junk food police.' Simply DO NOT buy junk food. In the end, you will be glad you gave your child a healthy childhood. If you are a junk food eater, you will need to 'clean' junk food out of your life to be a role model. The old adage, 'Don't do as I do, do as I say,' seldom works. Remember: Not only will you give your child a healthier life you give yourself a healthier life.

? Teach your children that some foods are healthier than others. This helps children learn to balance eating for health with eating for pleasure.

? Involve your children in shopping, meal planning and preparation. This is a great opportunity to teach them about nutrition-and they will be more likely to eat new foods if they helped choose the food and/or make it.

? Avoid forcing children to clean their plates or bribe them with dessert for finishing their meal. Use small portions and they can have seconds if they want more.

? Avoid using food as a reward. Reward desired behavior with praise, extra attention and privileges.

? Avoid using food to comfort your child. Use understanding, empathic words and hugs.

? Help your child develop interests and skills that increase their success and pleasure so they will be less likely to turn to food for fulfillment.

? Foster effective processing of feelings so as to decrease the chance that food will serve the purpose of providing a source for emotional comfort.

? Avoid imposing stringent food rules-this can lead to rebellious eating when the child is away from parental supervision.

? Eat together as a family. Mealtimes need to be a pleasant time to reconnect with one another and model healthy eating.

? Help your child build a lifetime exercise habit by reducing the amount of time your family spends in sedentary activities like TV and video games and make consistent physical activities a high priority.

? Plan fun family activities that provide everyone with exercise, enjoyment and time together.

? Be a positive, encouraging role model for your family. When your child observes you enjoying healthy foods and physical activity, they are more likely to do the same.

Prevention of weight problems and the development of lifetime healthy eating and physical activity is easier learned when the parent is a role model. Armed with these important insights, children will mange their weight instinctively throughout their lives-no matter what others around them do.

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, specializes in family issues, including sexual abuse, incest and physical abuse prevention and recovery, as therapist, author, consultant, lecturer, and trainer. "If I'd Only Known? Sexual Abuse in or out of the Family: A Guide to Prevention" 15% discount direct from the publisher at http://www.gen-assist.com/book.asp Dr. Neddermeyer offers 15 minute free consultations and interviews. [email protected] 480-704-0603

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