Too Many Treats

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Do your kids constantly ask for treats? Does it seem like cookies and candy, juice boxes and fast food meals are all they’re willing to eat? You’re not alone-many kids are attracted to things that aren’t the best nutritional choices. Maybe you are thinking, “They’re kids, it can’t be THAT bad for them.”

Let me share some frightening statistics from the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity (a problem so large that it has its own Journal!)

  • Childhood obesity is the greatest health risk our kids face today
  • By 2010 it is expected that 50% of all children will be overweight
  • This is the first generation where kids have a lower life expectancy than their parents

We’re spending billions of dollars on healthcare and our kids are unhealthier than ever. What’s going on here?

One thing that’s going on is that the average American child’s diet consists of one third junk food. Snacks, candy and other prepackaged foods, desserts filled with far and sugar make up a large portion of their daily intake. And I’m not just talking about special occasions like Halloween and Christmas. This is every day, all day.

The “food” that kids are eating is nutrient void but dense in calories and it’s often the lowest quality calories that you can find. These are the choices that are placed at a child’s eye level in the grocery store, and it’s not by accident. Commercials promoting these high-sugar, high-fat, low-nutrition foods also air during your children’s favorite TV shows. The commercials for these foods are filled with bright colors, music, action and the promise of something special.

An additional issue is that, as a nation, we are suffering from “portion distortion”, and this includes our children. They are learning to super-size, and purchase “economy size” and “value sized” meals themselves. They are constantly being bombarded with unhealthy food choices and learning that “bigger is better.”

And then the problems of low-quality, high-volume eating are compounded by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Think back to when you were a kid. Chances are you played outside with the neighborhood kids after school until it became dark. Kids today come home from school and many of them spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in front of a TV or computer screen.

So here’s a troubling equation for you:

Sedentary Lifestyle + High Fat/High Sugar Foods + Huge Portions = Overweight Kids

Now some kids have the opposite problem, instead of being sedentary, these kids have no down-time at all. They’re being shuffled from one activity to the next day in and day out. What are they eating during all of this “shuffle time”? For many moms, the easiest solution is either grabbing fast food to eat on the run, or grabbing some snacks for the kids to eat in the car. See where I’m going here?

In our well-meaning attempts to give the best to our children, we push the limits until the only possible way to get everything done is to cut corners. These corners frequently impact the food choices we make (for ourselves and our kids) when our lives become hectic and out of control.

So here’s another equation for you:

Overbooked Kids + Overstressed Moms + Convenience Foods = Overweight/Overstressed Kids

Let me give you an embarrassing example of overplanning gone horribly wrong.

Before I understood the importance of a sane lifestyle, downtime and reduced stress, I had my kids enrolled in anything I could sign up for.  From the minute they finished school until the minute they were all sleeping, every minute was planned.  We had to be at a game, practice, or event every evening, often doing homework in the car on the way. Very often I’d have at least one of my four children crying because they just wanted to be home playing.

One day, I grabbed some chicken nuggets to “feed” them during our shuffling. As we drove from one activity to the next, I started flinging chicken nuggets over my shoulder to my kids in the middle and back rows of my SUV. I was in a panic because we were running late, and the kids were crying because they were tired from all of the running around, and my aim was so bad that no one could “catch” their dinner as it flew past! When I finally took a moment to think about it, I cringed at my behavior.

That was my daughter’s last day of soccer practice. She doesn’t miss it and we haven’t veered back into that overplanned life since.

Take a look at how your lifestyle impacts your kids and see if it’s contributing to the development of unhealthy habits.  Consider making changes that make healthy choices and a sane lifestyle part of the plan for everyone in the family. From stocking the snack cabinet with healthy choices, to making a plan to sit down as a family for a real dinner on a regular basis, to planning activities that get you all away from the TV for a few hours, you can make sure your kids start off on the right foot building a healthy lifestyle.

Do you have some examples of how you have worked to build healthier habits into your family routine?  Any tips for keeping the holidays fun without an overload of treats? Please comment or drop me a note to share your thoughts – I always love to hear from you!

Our Bloggers

  • Paula Gallagher
    Paula Gallagher
    Paula is a highly qualified and experienced nutrition counselor on the staff at Village Green.
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  • Margo Gladding
    Margo Gladding
    Margo's impressive knowledge base is the result of a unique blend of educational and professional experience.
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  • Dr. Neal Barnard
    Dr. Neal Barnard
    Dr. Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research.
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    Dr. Joseph Pizzorno
    Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND is a pioneer of integrative medicine and a leading authority on science-based natural medicine.
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    Debi Silber
    Debi is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition, a personal trainer, and whole health coach.
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    Teri Cochrane
    Teri is a is a Certified Coach Practitioner with extensive certifications and experience in holistic medicinal practices.
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    Dr. Rav Ivker
    Dr. Rav Ivker is a holistic family physician, health educator, and best-selling author.
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  • Susan Levin
    Susan Levin
    Susan writes about the connection between plant-based diets and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
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June 2010
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