Healthy living starts early

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Tanner and Skylar Druffel pose with exercise equipment, part of their active lifestyle. "I started getting active when my mom and grandparents starting taking me hiking in the mountains when I was young," Skylar, 11, says. Her brother added, "Exercise is important because it helps me stay healthy and run faster in sports. I have more self-esteem and eating healthy allows my body to perform better in sports."

No longer are the days where children play baseball from morning till night on the weekends or eat nutritious afterschool snacks. Now are the days filled with weekends of playing video games and eating sugary treats such as Pop Tarts and replacing water for soda beverages. In reality, these sweetened treats should be exactly that -- treats -- and not part of a daily meal.

As a child grows, generally -- not in all instances -- children follow the actions and behaviors of their parents. Eating unhealthy foods is a learned behavior and action that children model from their parents. Growing up in a household of eating unbalanced meals "shows" children that this type of lifestyle is acceptable. In some situations, that routine of eating and inactivity will be the only lifestyle that he or she will know and relate with.

Results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, estimated 17 percent of children between the ages of 2 through 19 were obese.

The assumption in 2010 is that the percentage has risen due to the economic crisis. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one study states 80 percent of children who were overweight between the ages of 10-15 were obese adults by the age of 25.

A common complaint is that nutritious foods are expensive, which at times yes, it can be pricey, but not when "junk" food is being replaced by daily nutrient needs.

I took a trip to Albertsons to calculate some of the expenses that go with healthy and unhealthy food.

The foods calculated used original prices without any sales or card discounts.

For $26.57 a person will buy:

General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch, 24 ounces ($6.29)

Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chips Granola Bars ($3.50)

Nabisco Oreos, 17 ounces ($3.50)

Lay's Potato Chips ($3.99)

24-pack of Coca Cola ($9.29)

For $26.68 a person can choose a variety of healthier foods including:

Fresh Express Romaine Salad, 18 ounces ($4.49)

Brown rice, 32 ounces ($2.49)

Angel hair pasta, 16 ounces ($1.39)

Hunt's garlic herb pasta sauce ($1.99)

Red pepper ($1.29)

Carrots, 2 pounds ($1.49)

Celery stalk ($1.29)

Breton table crackers ($3.99)

Cucumber ($0.99)

Kidney beans, 15 ounces. ($0.99)

RW Knudsen organic apple juice ($3.69)

Eight small bananas ($1.60)

One medium onion ($1.40)

Not only is the list more abundant in a variety of choices, but parents can save money on unnecessary calories. Although a parent should not deprive a child of "kid food", but should train a child's brain that these sweets are treats and not meals.

Youth obesity is a serious epidemic that can places children at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, asthma, sleep apnea and decreases self-esteem which can negatively affect academic work.

Plus, the long term effect of unhealthy eating is more expensive when people calculate the cost of obesity related doctor visits from insurance co-pays, prescriptions, treatments and/or surgeries.

Some simple suggestions for parents include:

Special-occasion soda drinking -- Teach children that soda is not water by allowing them to indulge while dining out or at a movie theatre or picnic.

Treat of the week -- Instead of gorging on desserts daily, purchase a dessert -- say ice cream -- to moderate the portions to make it last one week. If the dessert is gone by Thursday then that means three more days of waiting. This teaches portion control.

Make healthy snacks -- Replace chips and Little Debbie snacks with fun snacks such as: homemade nuts, raisins and chocolate trail mix, "ant logs" made from celery sticks, peanut butter and raisins or peanut butter on apples.

Allow children to buy school lunches only one day per week -- This way you can control what the child is eating the majority of the days per week.

Flavor water -- To incorporate water instead of soda, sugary juice or electrolyte drinks, flavor water with natural ingredients such as lemons, limes, blackberries, cucumbers or cranberry juice.

A child's immediate happiness for a sugar fix is detrimental if those calories are not expended. Controlling the child's diet while they are young will lead the child towards a healthy lifestyle as well as avoid having to lose massive amounts of weight during the later years.

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience in India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is a programs coordinator at the YMCA where she trains, instructs fitness classes and assists in marketing projects. She welcomes questions and comments and can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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