Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weight of the Nation - Encouraging good habits for kids

Vic and I have almost finished HBO's 4-part series "Weight of the Nation." I've found a lot of it very informative and encouraging, but I will admit that Part 3, which was about childhood obesity, bothered me a bit. A lot of blame for this epidemic was put on the advertisements that children are exposed to, as well as the cafeteria meals they are served in school.  The experts in the documentary seemed to think the only way to protect children from ads and bad cafeteria meals was government regulation. I'll spare you the rant about government regulations and simply offer a better and cheaper alternative -- education and encouragement.

Both parents and our schools should educate our youth from day 1 of kindergarten through the last day of high school about the importance of making healthy choices and the health consequences of making bad choices. Encourage activity throughout the day - again, both parents and educators should be doing this. Take stretching or walking breaks during the school day. Make PE mandatory more than once/week. Go on family bike rides, evening walks, and weekend hikes.

I realize there's the argument about low-income and single mothers who have a hard time making ends meet, much less encouraging/enforcing a healthy lifestyle. I feel for those children - they're going to have a hard enough time rising above what they were born into. This is an area where, instead of the government telling anyone what they can or cannot watch or eat, the government {or whomever is in charge of curriculum and education} should be pushing more healthy living education to these kids. Eventually, the hope is that the lack of "customers" {children} purchasing unhealthy foods will lessen the advertising and poor cafeteria foods.

I speak from my own experiences, both with the way I was raised and now how I raise my child. Someday I plan on elaborating on my whole life of weight struggles, but I'll give you a little synopsis here to support where I'm coming from:

Growing up in my middle-class family with two working parents, we always had the sugary-sweet cartoon character cereals and we ate a lot of processed foods, especially because that was what was on sale and was quick to cook, or what my parents had coupons for {and my mom wasn't exactly an awesome cook - sorry mom!}. I often ate school lunches {pizza, hamburgers, pancake day!}, and of course I never chose the vegetables! To top it off, we drank diet soda - yes, "better" than sugar-filled regular soda, but horrible for a child! I cringe when I think of what went into my young body. Exercise wasn't really emphasized in our house either... it was sporadic and never anything we did as a family. Neither of my parents were heavy, but they were both unhealthy in their own ways. Needless to say, my outlook on nutrition and exercise started out pretty badly. I didn't begin to turn my bad habits around until my teen/young adult years when I began to read and become interested in diet and exercise. I educated myself on what I should/shouldn't be eating and doing... and I continue to do that daily, because I still have a lot of nature and nurture to fight!

As a parent, I struggle with feeding my very picky child healthy foods. I feel that I've done well enough - he loves almost all varieties of fresh fruit and yogurt, and he has never had soda nor a lot of juice - but I know I've fallen victim to convenience foods for him, and that I haven't pushed vegetables on him enough {Vic and I are working on that}. We also limit not only the amount of TV that he watches, but also what channels he watches. We stick with Nick Jr. because they do not have any advertising. I know as he gets older, this will change, but hopefully we will have instilled some good habits in him.

One area where I feel we do an excellent job is with exercise. We are both very active, and Valentino has caught the bug for sure.

About 7 months old and riding in our bike trailer!
He sees us ride our bikes. He sees us go running and lift weights. He loves to do all three and wants to participate in everything we do, and we encourage it. It makes me a proud mama :-)

Doing push-ups on the lawn at North Hills.
Edited to add: I in no way think I'm perfect at this subject with my child, nor do I think I know it all about this topic. These are simply my opinions and experiences with it.

I hope to update tomorrow with what I've been up to lately. Until then... your thoughts on childhood obesity?


  1. I haven't watched Part 3 yet, but in Part 1 they kept making the connection between lower income areas and obesity ... I'm sorry but doesn't a pound of apples or a bag of grapes or celery and peanut butter cost less (or at least is equivalent to) a bag of chips? I would think that low income families could afford to keep bread, deli meat, carrots, milk and other healthy alternatives to fast food in their home - fast food is fast, but isn't exactly cheap.
    Something I'm working on with Jennifer is to not use food as a reward ... for example, our grocery store has free cookies for kids and I have a bad habit of always saying "if you're a good listener, you can have a cookie." She always tastes everything that is on her plate - we tell her that she doesn't have to like it, but she has to try it. We drink green smoothies at least once a week to sneak in some extra greens. One fun thing we've started doing is making mini pizzas for dinner- we use whole wheat crust, tomato sauce, a little mozzarella cheese and I dice up whatever veggies I have on hand... Jennifer loves putting the toppings on her pizza and once they're cooked she actually eats her pizza with all the veggies! I was amazed the first time she ate a bite of pizza with red peppers and zucchini on it : )
    PS- that pic of Valentino at 7 months is sooooo cute!!

  2. Shannon, Vic and I said the same thing about the cost of junk vs. fruit/veg. I bought a huge stalk of celery at the store for $1.29 - the same cost as a convenience-sized bag of chips or cookies. Unfortunately, I think culture plus a lack of education in low-income areas contributes to kids not even desiring fruits and vegetables {or possibly not even knowing what they are!}. I caught an episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution when it was on ABC last year, and he was in a WV school {fairly low-income} where the kids didn't recognize a picture of a potato or tomato. I was absolutely floored - I had never considered that there are people out there who couldn't recognize a vegetable!

    I like your "tricks" to sneak in vegetables with Jennifer! I'm going to try some of those. I've been drinking smoothies more often, and I always give Valentino his own, but he rarely drinks more than a sip or two :-( One thing we do with him and his veggies is show him how to hide them in the other food on his plate - for instance, put them in bread, take a bite of them w/a bit of his sandwich or meat, etc. {sadly, we both know this method well, as neither of us eagerly eats veggies either!}.

    Thankfully, Valentino is very interested and knowledgeable about which foods "make you big and strong" versus those that "make you big and fat" and those that are "treats for sometimes." We always categorize them for him, since he usually inquires about it. I just hope he develops a healthy relationship and respect for food and his body.

    1. PS: Yes, that is one of our favorite pictures of Valentino as a baby! It was taken after our very first ride with the bike trailer, so there are lots of good memories associated with it {and he's so tiny and cute there!} :-)