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Parents Are Child'

Parents Are Child's Teachers When It Comes To Nutrition, Healthy Lifestyles

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DENTON — Parents are a child's first and most influential teacher when it comes to eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle.

"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 Woman's University.

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 choices."

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 said.

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 lifestyle."

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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For Further Information Contact:

Roy Kron
Director of News and Information
Tel: (940) 898-3456
e-mail: rkron@twu.edu