Posts Tagged ‘ Childhood Obesity ’

5 Simple Ways To Promote Healthy Eating Habits In Your Kids

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

All parents want to make sure their kids have healthy eating habits. But it’s not easy to find simple ways to do this, given the hectic realities of modern day living. So how can you find a balance which gives your kids good basic habits without requiring a major life overhaul? 

To get some advice, I contacted Karen Avila. Karen is a registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in Dietetics and Food Administration, and also a Certified Personal Trainer. She is the founder of Healthy Karen where she specializes in medical, pediatric, and sports nutrition, along with weight management. In addition, as a busy mom to two boys, she has gone through her own trials and errors at home that have helped her figure out what works with kids – and especially what works on a regular basis. Here are her 5 most important simple ways to integrate healthy eating habits in your daily routine.

  • Make mornings count. Give your kid a healthy high fiber breakfast. Add sliced berries, bananas, or raisins to a high fiber cereal (good choices include frosted shredded mini wheats, Raisin Bran, and 100% All Bran). When selecting a bread, make sure that the first ingredient is “whole wheat or grain” – and choose a bread with the least number of ingredients.  Another good quick breakfast is a smoothie with peanut butter and banana. Breakfast is really important for kids and you want to find something nutritious that they like and will eat on a regular basis. Click here for some great breakfast recipes and more advice on breakfast from Karen.
  • Limit juice and sport drink intake. These drinks are loaded with empty calories and kids often fill up on them rather than nutrient rich foods – and keep in mind that sports drinks are a leading cause of tooth decay in teens. As a compromise, you can at least water down your kids sport drink and/or juice. And try to promote some water drinking, especially when kids are thirsty (say after sports or dance). They’ll be happy to drink the water and it’s a way to get it into their daily routine.
  • Provide good tasting alternatives to junk food. You don’t have to completely eliminate junk food in the house. But, you can reduce how much your kids eat, and give them healthy alternatives that they will like. Put out veggies and healthy dips during snack time on a regular basis. Keep putting them out. Your kids will start eating them, especially if there is nothing else to choose from. Some other ideas – you can add ground flax to homemade brownies and baked goods, and substitute applesauce for vegetable oil to make a healthier version of your child’s favorite baked goods.
  • Have healthy snacks available in your car. With everyone’s busy schedules, parents and kids spend lots of time in the car. To avoid making a pit stop at a fast food joint a routine while on the road, pack healthy foods. These can include nuts, fruit, and whole grain crackers. You all can have a good snack and be ready for a healthy dinner later on.
  • Don’t forbid foods. All these tips are ways of encouraging healthy eating habits in kids. Actively forbidding foods always backfires – it just makes kids want these foods more. But practicing moderation and setting limits is very important. If your kids like sugary junk cereal, let them have a small box one morning on the weekend – as long as they eat their power breakfast during the week. By buying small boxes (let your kid pick it out) and making only one box available for that breakfast, you are helping your child understand how to have some of the junk food they like without eating too much of it, or eating it too frequently.

Lastly, Karen suggests that you should follow these guidelines as well for yourself. By being a role model for your child, and getting them started on healthy eating habits early in life, they will have a platform for good health that will have a huge impact on their future.

Mother and daughters cooking together via

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Does The Label “Plus Sizes For Girls” Send The Wrong Message?

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Earlier today I watched a segment on the Today show about the current effort by retailers to provide plus sizing for girls at most ages (including toddlerhood). The question: is this labeling the wrong way to go? 

Look, it’s clear that there are a variety of body types at all ages for girls. There is, also, the current obesity epidemic in this country that is requiring that more and more girls need larger sizes. So providing size choices at all ages – in stores and online – makes sense. Retailers are there to sell clothes, and kids (and parents) don’t want to be restricted in terms of what styles they can choose from.

But from my vantage point, do we need to use the phrase “Plus Sizes”? To me, it sounds like the fashion equivalent of doing a bad job of “mainstreaming” – you’re just like all of the  ”normal” girls, except that you are a “plus size.” Do we need a “Too Skinny” section too?

I get that the retailers want to be sure that parents know that there is a concerted effort going on to be sure any girl can select from any style in most stores. But couldn’t a marketing campaign simply state that there is a full range of sizes available? I think most parents are comfortable sorting through either numeric sizing or abbreviations. I wonder if retailers like Sears consulted with developmental experts – rather than just marketing professionals – who might have helped them craft a better message. Yes, I’m guessing that retailers don’t really think through the deeper issues for kids, and focus myopically on target audiences and sales potential, even though a more suitable balance could be achieved.

If you saw the segment on the Today show, you heard an articulate 11-year-old (who purchases “plus size” clothes) who seems much wiser than the retailers these days. (If you didn’t catch it, check the Today show website and see if it is posted there). She said that she likes being able to go to the mainstream stores and be able to buy what all the other girls can buy (which wasn’t always the case). She also suggested that stores can simply rely on sizing and not the “plus size” labeling. And she plans to launch her own line of fashion someday that avoids unnecessary, and potentially undermining, labeling. I hope she does!

Sizes via

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Link Between Childhood Obesity And Lower Math Performance

Friday, June 15th, 2012

A new paper (just published online in Child Development) reports that kids who are obese have lower math scores over a 6-year period. Here are the essentials. 

Why is this study important? It focused on over 6,000 kids, tracking them from entry into kindergarten through 5th grade. Data were collected from kids, parents, and teachers. Math performance was assessed directly via testing. These are all strengths that improve confidence in the results.

What did they find? They focused on 3 groups of kids: 1) a group that was obese at entry into kindergarten; 2) a group that became obese over time; and 3) a group that was never classified as obese. Both the obese group and the group they became obese showed lower math performance over time – at 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades. These results held up after accounting for a number of other factors (individual and family) that could have contributed to the results.

Why would obesity influence math performance? The study also examined other factors that were shown to help explain the results. Especially important were concurrent emotional problems (internalizing symptoms) in the obese group and the group that became obese. These early signs of symptoms of depression and anxiety are known to impact academic performance, and it may be that the kids with weight issues become more withdrawn in the classroom. This was especially evident for girls, as they were also reported to show lower levels of interpersonal skills in school – which again partly explained the link between childhood obesity and lower math performance.

What’s the take-home message? Childhood obesity is known to carry a number of health risks that increase in the school years. Some studies – including this new one – suggest that it impacts kids’ academic and emotional functioning. The chain of events may be that as kids who suffer from obesity become more socially and emotionally withdrawn over time, this also leads to less engagement in the classroom. This is not the first study to observe a link between childhood obesity and academic performance, so it’s beginning to look like this may be a real phenomenon. Other factors – not considered in this study – may also be important. For example, the authors of the paper speculate that sleep problems may play a role as well, as they are linked with both obesity and academic performance. What’s troubling here is that the effects are observed during such critical learning years – from kindergarten through 5th grade. Children who suffer from obesity not only need intervention in order to prevent long-term health problems – it may be that they could profit from emotional support to help ensure that they stay engaged both socially and academically in school.

Math Homework Via

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Type 2 Diabetes In Obese Youth Is Hard To Treat (Or Another Reason Why Prevention Is So Important)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

We all know that obesity rates in youth are way too high and increasing. We all know that obesity in youth is associated with the onset of type 2 diabetes. And now new research – you can click here to read the report – is showing that the initial course of treatment for type 2 diabetes in obese youth only helps about half of the kids – suggesting many will go on to need insulin therapy before they reach adulthood

What’s especially sobering is that this study was very well conducted. It used the most highly supported medication regimen for the early stages of type 2 diabetes along with psychological intervention designed to change lifestyles. The research protocol attempted to secure adherence to the interventions. The youth were carefully studied and monitored over time. Yet despite all this, in only half of the cases did the medication regimen achieve “glycemic control” – and that the psychological component did not produce additional benefit. Again – it bears repeating – the net result is that half of these kids will likely need insulin therapy in just a few years.

While it’s clear that researchers will continue to try to come up with more effective treatments for the early stages of type 2 diabetes in obese youth, this study provides yet another reason for parents to take prevention seriously in childhood. There are no magic bullets here – we all need to struggle with a number of environmental trends and pressures that promote the development of obesity in youth. So here are the logical places to start:

None of this is easy. It’s really not. Especially given the day to day challenges we all face as parents. But trying to be vigilant about your child’s nutrition, exercise, and sleep is the best pathway to trying to prevent obesity and the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Definition of insulin via


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When Will “SHOCK” Parenting Go Out Of Style?

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Here we go again – another parent makes a big splash with outrageous claims about her parenting methods. This time it’s that Vogue article about one mother’s reaction to hearing that her daughter was obese – which turned out to be a pathologically inconsistent set of messages and dietary practices. I have three reactions to all this.

First, IF the claims are true, then I agree with the take offered by my fellow blogger Heather Morgan Shott. Heather tackles this issue much better than I could.

Second, IF this story was embellished, then I suggest in the future articles of this nature come with a warning label that says: “The truth has been stretched – and then some – in order to gain viewer’s eyes, make their blood boil, and give them something juicy to talk about.” This is especially relevant since the author of the Vogue article has a deal in place to expand her thoughts in a book. I don’t know if you recall what transpired when the Tiger Mom book came out early last year, but the sequence was roughly this: 1) the most outrageous quotes from the book were used to publicize it, 2) the author then suggested that those lines were clearly not to be taken literally, and 3) then it was suggested that the book was really just a memoir and not an endorsement of any type of unhealthy or damaging parenting practices. When all was said and done, we could look to recent research for some sanity, as it demonstrates what we would expect: 1) parents who push their kids really hard to achieve success without providing warmth, love and support place their kids at risk for depression and other not so great outcomes, and 2) it is possible to set high standards for your kids and help them be achievement oriented and actually act in a loving and supportive way at the same time. So to me the simple warning label suggested above would certainly help me figure out what the real message is the next time a SHOCKING book or article comes out.

Third, rather than focus more on this Vogue article, I’d love to hear real stories about real parents who are digging deep and trying hard to do the best for their kids. It’s not easy getting the balance right with respect to body image and health these days: we’re stuck between a multitude of social forces which, on the one hand, promote obesity, and, on the other hand, push kids toward eating disorders. Many parents struggle with their own histories of eating issues and body image concerns, and they are hopefully finding ways to promote realistic healthy eating habits and corresponding physical and cognitive pathways to positive self-esteem. I’d love to hear stories about how real parents handle these challenges. So consider this an invitation to share your story about how you balance all these concerns and what obstacles you face – we need to focus on REAL parenting rather than SHOCK parenting.

Image of shocked women via

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