Eat your Vegetables! Raising Healthy Children
In the September 2008 issue of ABCDlady, Preyanka
Makadia introduced you to a number of fun ways to incorporate exercise
into your daily life. It is equally important to ensure your children
maintain healthy lifestyles. Encouraging healthy eating and activity
during childhood are fundamental to nurturing healthy adolescents
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
report that the rates of obesity in children aged two to five years
have doubled in the last three decades and tripled in children aged
six through eleven years. A child over two years of age is considered
overweight if his or her Body Mass Index (BMI), a relationship of
height and weight, is greater than 85 percent for his or her age
and gender. If a child’s BMI is greater than 95 percent for
his or her age and gender, he or she is considered obese.
The likelihood of developing serious medical complications,
such as Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension and Heart Disease is much
greater in children with higher BMIs. Orthopedic problems, such
as pain and osteoarthritis, are also on the rise. Obese children
can not only face physical problems but also psychosocial issues.
They may be subject to taunting and bullying from other children,
which can lead to self-esteem issues.
There are two reasons that childhood
obesity is on the rise: unhealthy eating habits and too little activity.
Families seem to be busier than ever and parents are often unable
to cook healthy meals. School lunch offerings are generally high
in fat and calories. To add to the problem, numerous school districts
across the nation have either shortened or eliminated recess and
physical education to meet the needs of the No Child Left Behind
policy. Daily participation in physical activity has also dropped
significantly because greater time is being spent in front of the
television or computer. Moreover, due to concerns over child safety,
gone are the days when parents allowed their children to ride their
bikes around the neighborhood all afternoon.
Use this calculator
to calculate your child’s BMI:
In spite of these trends, parents
can help children maintain healthy lifestyles by focusing on proper
nutrition and daily activity. To ensure proper nutrition, cut down
on your family’s fast food consumption. Include whole grains,
vegetables and fruits in your child’s diet. Create a “rainbow”
of color on your child’s plate with lots of greens (spinach
or green beans), reds (beets or radishes), oranges (carrots) and
yellows (squash or corn). Also, keep crudités (bite-sized
vegetables) in the fridge for easier and healthier snacking. Reduce
the amount of juice you give to your child and substitute it with
water or milk. Instead of a juice box, give your child a piece of
fruit. You will decrease the calories and increase the fiber intake.
Also, learn to recognize portion sizes to limit food and calorie
Going back to a traditional
Indian diet goes a long way in reducing fat intake. Conventional
Indian fare, such as rotis (grilled flatbread), subzi
(vegetables) cooked in very little oil, dal and rice are
healthy as well as low in fat and calories. No matter which regional
cuisine you enjoy, minimize the fat and oil used when cooking. Include
fewer pieces of paneer (farmar’s cheese) in your
mutter paneer (peas and farmer’s cheese)
or substitute cubes of tofu instead. Reduce the amount of heavy
cream in your mother’s dal makhani (lentils cooked
with cream) or switch to tandoori chicken (marinated chicken
cooked in a clay oven) instead of chicken makhani (chicken
simmered in butter sauce). Substitute traditional white basmati
rice with brown basmati rice. Use less oil when making dosas
(South Indian crepe made with rice and lentils) or switch to uttapams
(South Indian pancake made with rice and lentils) instead.
Opt for rotis instead of naans (buttered flatbread)
or puris (deep fried dough), adding more fiber to your
meal. Add vegetables to your dal (lentils) to increase
fiber and nutrient intake.
While helping your children learn how to eat more
healthily, encourage them to stay active as well. The Surgeon General
recommends engaging in physical activity for at least 60 minutes
each day. This can be as simple as walking around the neighborhood,
playing on the playground or participating in a team sport. Consider
enrolling your child in a class, such as swimming, skating or dancing.
Alternately, your child might join a local soccer,
t-ball or basketball team. Many classes and teams start for children
as young as four years of age. If your child is younger than four,
just playing on the playground or dancing is adequate. When was
the last time you put on the latest A.R. Rahman CD and danced away
the calories? Children have few inhibitions and will enjoy dancing
with you. Create a playlist of favorite, fast-paced songs and play
it while cooking, cleaning or just hanging out. I suggest songs
from Singh is Kinng, Kismet Konnection and Jaane
Tu ya Jaane Na. Also, limit television and video-game time.
Set the example by turning off the television and joining your children
in a game of tag, hide-and-seek or hopscotch.
If your children really
like video games, the Nintendo® Wii has many “active”
games that require players to get up and move around. Nintendo’s
Wii ® Fit has a specific program that will track BMI and daily
activity and will work on flexibility, strength, endurance and balance
at the same time.
You can help your children maintain healthy lifestyles.
By showing them how to eat properly and stay active, you will help
your children adopt good habits while they are still young. These
habits, when introduced early, will stay with your children through
adolescence and adulthood, helping them remain healthy throughout
Minal Jain, PT, DSc, PCS, is a pediatric clinical physical therapist.
She has over 20 years of experience working with children and families
with disabilities. Dr. Jain is currently a senior physical therapist
involved in pediatric clinical rehabilitation research at the National
Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not
reflect endorsement by the NIH.
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