Lynn Little: Teach children healthy habits

April 21, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Childhood is a time to have an impact on your child's weight, height, bones and tooth strength.

Diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes all can be linked back to poor habits developed during childhood. As a parent, try these suggestions to help your child develop healthy food and physical activity habits.

Don't mix food and television. Kids consume more calories when they eat in front of TV - probably because the distraction makes them less aware of what they are eating. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reported that families who watch TV during dinner tend to eat higher-fat foods - and TV-viewing comes up in virtually every study as having a strong correlation with childhood obesity.

Sit down to a family meal. A study of students in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., found that children who ate frequently with their families ate more fruits, vegetables, grains and calcium-rich foods and drank fewer soft drinks.


Cut back on the juice. A small glass of orange juice in the morning is enough. Switch kids to drinking more water and low-fat milk or serve them a whole piece of fruit instead.

Encourage sporting friendships. Kids who exercise regularly are less likely to be overweight. Girls who exercise as teenagers can affect their long-term osteoporosis risk. A Purdue University study found that the most physically active children were those who had a close friend taking part in the same activity.

Keep offering rejected foods. Kids naturally prefer sweet and salty foods. They learn to like everything else. Offer healthful food at least 15 times and waiting two to three weeks before bringing back a rejected food.

Control the food in the house. Pack your refrigerator and pantry with healthful foods and put balanced meals on the table.

Set a good example. At every stage of a child's development, parental example is a good way to influence behavior. Parents who exercise and have good eating habits are more likely to have kids who do the same.

As parents, let's not overlook that one of the most important skills we can teach to our children is lifelong health. Help your child learn good health and nutrition habits. A skill will last their lifetime.

Go to for more information on children and healthy eating and physical activity habits.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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