Old habits impede optimal health

It seems an easier out to treat children with unhealthy sugar than to teach them to behave appropriately.

by Cary Bailen — 

We frequently show love to the special people in our lives through unhealthy food, such as old-fashioned cookies, ice cream, soda or candy. Often, these are considered a treat or a reward. They mean we are being good, we deserve it or, perhaps, we offer them as an act of love for no reason. If done too regularly, this old way of demonstrating love hurts our bodies and creates patterns in our children that are unnecessary and harmful.

Many in our society today are obsessed with and confused about food, and our children are suffering because of it. Between eight and 45 percent of newly diagnosed cases of childhood diabetes are of the type 2 variety that is associated with obesity, whereas only four percent of childhood diabetes was type 2 in 1990. That is a rise of approximately 20 percent. Depending on the age (type 2 most frequently occurs in the 10- to 19-year-old age group) and the racial/ethnic mix of the group, as many as 85 percent of children with type 2 diabetes are obese.

We often use food as a reward, to numb our pain and to encourage kids to behave. We see children with sugar dripping from their mouths because Mom wants them to behave while shopping, riding in the car or even getting their hair cut. It seems an easier out to treat children with unhealthy sugar than to teach them to behave appropriately. However, this ultimately has the opposite effect on our children’s behavior than we desire.

There are other ways of rewarding, like an acknowledgement, a sticker, a healthy snack or, better yet, a hug or a high-five. It is easier to develop good habits in a very young child before he knows what candy, McDonald’s or other junk food is. If they have already been exposed to sugar and fast foods, it is certainly still worth your child’s health and well-being to teach them how nutrient-dense food make them stronger and healthier, and how processed foods will make them sick if they have too much.

I often am surprised at how I am treated for giving my 3-year-old son healthy, balanced meals and minimizing the sugar and junk in his diet. I get called a mean mom, a sugar Nazi and a health freak by the same parents who give their children chemicals and sugar, believing they are simply giving them treats.

Love means caring about your children’s well-being, even if it involves taking an unpopular stand for better long-term health. Much of this comes through educating ourselves about nutrition. We cannot pick up a newspaper or a magazine today that does not emphasize the importance of good, healthy, whole-food meals that include fresh fruits and vegetables.

Balance and variety are the key. There are many ways to incorporate good-tasting foods into your diet and enjoy life. It is fine to have cake at a birthday party … as long as you limit it to special occasions. Most importantly, there are plenty of pure foods that taste just like the ones filled with the unhealthy ingredients.

The earlier we train our children’s taste buds, the better the chance they will grow up with fruits and vegetables in their vocabularies and in their tummies. We must educate ourselves so we can offer our children the healthiest lives possible.

All the statistics show that eating healthy, whole food affects our minds, bodies and spirits in very positive ways. Bottom line, the next time your child throws a fit in the grocery store, think of another way to calm her than by sticking a lollipop in her mouth.

References: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and www.MyWebMD.com.


Cary Bailen, B.A., has taught health education for more than 10 years and is the founder of Kidz for Life, which offers custom nutrition training and health education programs for individuals, families, groups and schools. 602-751-0012, www.kidzforlife.com or cebplh@yahoo.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 4, August/September 2007.

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