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HEALTH MIND & BODY
Lean for Life
, Courier Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2012 1:00 PM
"Eat your vegetables, Johnny. They're good for you."
"Just take a tiny bite, Mary. You might like it."
Did those mealtime nudges inspire you to eat more spinach when you were a kid? Did they turn you on to cantaloupe?
Very likely not. And those messages may be equally uninspiring to your children, but don't give up. Encouraging kids to eat their fruits and vegetables is important, says Melinda Johnson, a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and mother of two boys.
"Fruits and vegetables offer unique nutrition that no other foods offer," Johnson says. "Certain vitamins, like vitamins C and folate (a B vitamin) can be almost impossible to get if no fruits and vegetables are consumed."
Tips for parents
To help children develop a taste for produce, Johnson offers these tips.
Lead the way. Studies show that kids tend to eat the way their parents eat.
Start early. Children may develop a taste for stronger tasting vegetables such as squash if you feed it to them in mashed, easy-to-digest form when they are infants.
Be persistent. Serve a fruit and/or a veggie at each meal, and for at least one snack a day. Repeated exposure may make your child more likely to accept "challenging" foods.
These and other tips for healthy eating and weight control can be found on the King's Daughters' Health website. Other information can be discussed with a pediatrician or family physician during regular check-ups.
A younger generation of Americans faces health problems that only used to affect older adults during later stages of life, but a new generation may be facing decreased life expectancies because of poor health choices.
With lack of exercise and poor food choices, a life expectancy that had been on the rise for past generations has begun to change for younger generations, King's Daughters' Hospital pediatrician Holly Robinson said.
"Now, with obesity, it appears to be going down," she said.
Currently, obesity is the biggest health risk facing today's children and teens, Robinson said, and programs like Lean for Life at King's Daughters' Hospital are trying to help combat the problem.
Even though the United States has seen an increase of obesity in adults as well, lifestyle choices have led to less exercise for children in schools because of cuts to physical education and a more sedentary lifestyle after the school day ends.
But even minor exercise can lead to a healthier lifestyle for children, Robinson said, like helping with chores around the house instead of sitting down after school to watch television or play video games.
"It's just the little things," she said.
Because of sedentary lifestyles and little exercise, children face health problems at younger ages than ever.
"They can't participate like other kids," she said. "It's a vicious cycle."
Unhealthy eating habits are also linked to an appearance of health problems with children, such as Type II diabetes and high blood pressure.
"We never used to see that before," Robinson said.
In addition to promoting a more active lifestyle, making healthier food and drink choices helps to maintain a healthy weight for children.
"Eating habits start early in life," Robinson said. "A lot of it is habits."
One easy way to promote a healthier lifestyle and limiting a lot of unneeded calories is to cut out daily soda intake, Robinson said. Instead of soda, encourage children and teens to drink water, flavored water or juices.
Another way to watch a child's weight is to monitor portions. Families are encouraged to have meals together to watch portion control for children.
"Children don't lose weight on their own," Robinson said. Instead of counting calories like adults, parents could simply watch how many cookies or slices of pizza a child has instead of eliminating all junk foods altogether.
"Kids are typically more picky than adults" when it comes to food choices, Robinson said
By incorporating good foods or healthy foods during meals - even for children who aren't heavy or unhealthy - and offering other sweets and treats as positive reinforcements after the meal, the portions of junk foods consumed decreases.
Another way the Lean for Life program organizers encourage families to watch food intake is through food journals. Food journals give doctors a starting point when beginning to formulate a healthy weight plan for children. The journals also surprise many parents as to how much their child eats throughout the day.
Robinson said weight loss is safe for children, especially when health problems might arise from being overweight.
"It's a lot easier to tackle 10 pounds than 100 pounds," she said.
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