Ralph Waldo Emerson so poignantly said “Nature never hurries. Atom by atom, little by little she achieves her work.” This succinct and timely quote represents the message that lies at the foundation of a heart healthy lifestyle, aspire to make small and incremental changes.
The practitioners of the Center for Heart Health at Valley wanted to write an article that targets our children. I am sure it will come as no surprise to you that childhood overweight and obesity has more than doubled in the last three decades. This trend is readily apparent in our schools, the malls, our neighborhoods and houses of worship. What we may not have appreciated is the direct correlation between this trend and the rise in chronic health conditions in our youth. Chronic conditions, such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, sleep disorders and asthma are occurring in greater frequency in children and adolescents because of excess weight. Furthermore, research has shown us that about 80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults. We also know that obesity tends to cluster in families. Having one obese parent triples a child’s risk of becoming obese. Having two obese parents increases this risk 13 fold.
Weight status is defined using Body mass index (BMI). BMI reflects a ratio of height to weight and is further tailored based on the child’s age and gender. Normal weight is a BMI between the 5th and 85th percentile. Overweight is when the BMI exceeds the 85th percentile but is less than the 95th percentile and obese is when the BMI exceeds the 95th percentile. Do you know your child’s BMI?
The scope of the problem is enormous; in fact, many believe it has become an epidemic. How did this happen? A change in the dynamics of our family, the influences of our environment and society have contributed to this trend.
Today’s modern family often consists of two working parents and children who participate in more than one after school activity. The result is the reality that “quick on the go” meals are what best serves this lifestyle. Those choices usually are fast food or frozen entrees. Both are notorious for their high salt and fat content. Also evident, with this lifestyle change, is the limited number of “family” meals.
Through societal and environmental changes we have experienced a dramatic increase in portion sizes. More does not equate to better.
Unfortunately as the portions increase there has been an inversely proportional decrease in its nutritional value. There has been a trend towards consumption of foods high in sugar, refined grains and fats. In fact, today soft drinks represent the number one source of calories in our adolescents.One can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. If our children drink one 12 ounce can of soda a day at the end of one year they will have potentially gained 9 pounds. Additionally, choosing a soft drink, which will make you feel full,is often at the cost of not choosing foods with greater nutrient density, like a fruit or vegetable. Research has demonstrated that 40% of the portions consumed by 2 to 18 year olds are devoid of nutrients. On average we have added 600 calories a day to our diets since 1970.
Inactivity has become a huge public health problem, and not just for our youth. The average 8 to 18 year old spends more than 4 hours in front of some type of screen. Computers, hand held electronic devices and of course the T.V.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than 2 hours of “screen time” per day. Additionally, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 60 minutes of moderate physical activity for our youth daily.
The media has directly impacted on this trend as well. The food and beverage industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry and its marketing campaigns are directed at our children. It is estimated that for every $1000 they spend on products like chips and sugar sweetened beverages only $1 is spent on advertising healthier options.
A targeted approach needs to be put in place to address the issues of nutrient quality, portion size, physical activity and media exposure. What we expose our children to will definitely define their palate preferences. Therefore, exposure to foods high in salt and SoFas (solid fats added sugar) will influence the choices they make independently. We role model for them constantly, with what we say and do, and this extends to the health behaviors we have adopted.
First and foremost it is about balance, balancing energy consumed in the form of calories with energy expended during physical activity. We need to strive for equanimity. Right now the scale is imbalanced because of our calorie dense choices and increased portion sizes. We need to change this model of behavior by helping our children distinguish between calorie dense and nutrient dense choices and appropriate portion sizes.
Make it easy for your children to make the right choices. Have a bowl of fruit waiting on the counter after school, have healthy choices in the refrigerator and pantry at eye level.
Arrange for family meals at least three times per week. Studies have shown that when children eat with their parents they have a greater tendency to make healthier choices. It is important to make any changes in the family’s diet slowly. Don’t change from whole milk to skim the first week, first try 2%.
Help your children understand food labels. Have them look at the sodium, fat, protein and fiber content of the foods they are eating. Remember that % daily value (DV) should be less than 5% for sodium, fat and cholesterol. Make them aware that the ingredients listed first are in the highest quantity. Obviously, sugars should not be first. Point out to them at the supermarket the emblem on cereals and bread products that represents whole grains.
Increasing their awareness will help enhance their compliance with nutritionally sound choices.
Make a commitment as a family to be more active. Make it fun. Go for a hike or bike ride on a weekend. There are no shortages of great opportunities, in our area, to be outdoors. Nyack, Ramapo Reservation, Dunker Hook are just a few of the local choices. Buy jump ropes for your kids. Jumping rope is great exercise and jump ropes are highly portable.
Strive to limit screen time to less than 2 hours per day. Definitely turn off the T.V. during meal time.
In June 2011 MyPlate.gov replaced the MyPyramid concept in an effort to increase the practicality of appropriate portions for our youth. The primary objective is still increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low fat dairy while minimizing sugar sweetened beverages.
Most children don’t believe the behaviors and habits they establish now will influence their health behaviors and health conditions in the future. It is our role to dispel this myth for them. There is a multitude of research that clearly illustrates that sound nutrition and regular moderate physical activity will potentially influence not only their growth and development but also positively influence their academic performance in school.
We encourage you to come in for your free risk assessment with one of our Nurse Practitioners. By helping yourself and reinforcing your own knowledge base you will only enhance the choices your whole family makes. Call today 201-447-8125.
Additional Valley Resources that you may find beneficial: