Parents Are Child'
Parents Are Child's Teachers When It Comes To Nutrition,
DENTON Parents are a child's first and most influential
teacher when it comes to eating healthy and living a healthy
"By the time children are three years old, they've
established their eating habits for life," said Dr. Nancy
DiMarco, professor of nutrition and food sciences at Texas
So, if fast food is the norm in the household, it will likely
be the norm for the child when he or she is middle-aged. And that
can mean health problems.
Research shows that conditions that manifest themselves in
middle age, such as heart disease and high cholesterol, begin in
childhood. Parents who make smart meal and snack choices reduce
the likelihood of their children suffering from obesity, high
cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and other health problems
later in life.
"I'm not saying get rid of fast food completely,"
Dr. DiMarco said. "But parents need to make better overall
The first key to having healthier children is parental
involvement reading food labels, paying attention to what
children eat (both the good and the bad) and making sure children
get enough physical activity.
Food labels list how much fat, sugar and other substances are
in a food product. "Ingredient labels list items by content
from most to least. So, if sugar is listed first, what
you're about to eat contains a lot of sugar," Dr. DiMarco
Restaurants and fast food outlets also have nutrition
information available, but the customer usually must request the
information from the wait staff. "Most fast food restaurants
also have nutrition information available on their Web
sites," Dr. DiMarco added.
Another key ingredient to the body's healthy development is
breakfast. "Children can't learn as well, or have the energy
needed for physical activity, if it's been 12 or more hours since
their last meal," Dr. DiMarco said.
More milk also is needed in children's diets. "One survey
found that the average teenaged boy is drinking more than 60
ounces of soda a day. Those are empty calories with no vitamins
or minerals," Dr. DiMarco said.
Milk contains essential vitamins and minerals for the body's
development and is the most efficient way to ingest those
essentials, Dr. DiMarco said. A life-long routine of drinking
milk also helps women prevent osteoporosis.
Obviously, children also need to eat plenty of fruits and
vegetables and have some protein in their daily diet.
Physical activity is equally important to good health.
"Instead of telling children to go outside and play, parents
need to go outside and play some with their children. They can go
for walks, exercise the dog, do any number of things that
provides physical activity and models good exercise
behaviors," Dr. DiMarco said.
Show children that eating healthy and exercise are meaningful,
Dr. DiMarco said. Parents, after all, are role models.
Making healthy lifestyle changes for the whole family are
important, Dr. DiMarco said. But she recommends making those
changes gradually. "If you just jump in, you're more likely
to fail. And when you fail, you won't want to try again.
"Take small, decisive steps toward a healthier
And plan on the occasional departure from the diet and
exercise rigors. "It's okay to skip a day of exercise from
time to time. It's okay to eat something decadent from time to
time," she said.
"Parental involvement is key to having healthier children
who are healthier adults."
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