What we teach our children when they are young, and the habits we help them to form, can have a lasting effect as they grow up. Children will absorb all sorts of information from their parents on eating, washing, sleeping, and everything else in between. Although it may not always seem like we have much power over our children’s choices, we have the strongest influence over their habits and tendencies. As such, it is particularly important for parents to help their children in forming good habits young.
The Long-term effects of bad habits
The way our children eat is one of the main areas where we as parents can – in most cases – have the strongest influence. Children who are regularly fed fast food, sweets, and ready meals will grow up feeling that these things are the norm. They will become used to quick, easy, unhealthy food, and potentially addicted to food additives such as sugar.
Statistics in England in particular show that four out of five children who are already obese are likely to stay that way into adulthood. Alongside obesity can also come lifelong illnesses including diabetes, as well as an increased risk of heart disease and other weight related diseases.
Childhood obesity is not necessarily all down to eating habits, however. Activity levels play another important part, and this is another area where parents are influential. Children whose parents promote and encourage physical activity are much more likely to continue with that later in life. But, children who are used to more sedentary activities are more likely to continue on that path.
A public health issue
Childhood obesity and ill health are issues that concern all of us, irrespective of whether we have children or not. The vast majority of us rely on the NHS, which is, according to Professor Neena Modi, President of the RCPCH, “burgeoning under the weight of ill health.” Problems occur not only from childhood obesity but also from smoking, drinking, and drug use.
One of the ways Public Health England (PHE) is looking to help fight childhood obesity is by ending the advertisement of unhealthy foods before the 9pm watershed. It is also concerned that cuts to vital children’s services due to public health cuts are contributing to the issue of childhood obesity and weight related illnesses.
Forming good habits young – how parents can help
The older children are, the harder it becomes to convince and teach them about self-care if they have already grown accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle.
Leading by example is a great way to form good habits young. You can do this by letting them see what you are eating, eating together and exercising together. This doesn’t necessarily mean making huge lifestyle changes. Small changes to your diet can make a significant difference. For example, try switching fruit or vegetable snacks for sugary snacks, or choosing low or no sugar drinks over sugary pop.
In order to help form good habits young, Public Health England are promoting a switch to no more than two 100 calorie snacks per day for children in an attempt to reduce rates of childhood obesity. The Change4Life campaign seeks to promote healthy living through diet and exercise, and the website contains tips, recipes and activities to make this easier.
If you are concerned about your child’s health or weight, you can speak to your GP, health visitor or school nurse for advice. They can check whether your child may be considered obese and provide you with information and guidance on useful diet and lifestyle changes. The Change4Life website is also an excellent resource.