Developing healthy habits that will last a lifetime

 The rapidity of obesity increase in the Caribbean is alarming. In two decades obesity has grown by almost 400%. It is now the most important underlying cause of death in the region and the range of consequent illnesses is wide among those who survive.

When the figures for obesity in young children and adolescents are reviewed, the future nutritional state of the Caribbean looks bleak. Although the global prevalence of overweight amongst preschool children is estimated at 3.3%, data collected from the region show higher rates such as 3.9% for Barbados and 6.0% for Jamaica. More than 70% of obese adolescents retain their overweight even during their adulthood.

The cases of child obesity are increasing day by day. There are proven research results to ratify this statement and according to several regional studies, the number of obese children has doubled during the period of last three decades. Being overweight does not only mean to be over in size but it has certain health complications attached to it. There is alarming increase in the number of children and adolescents developing Type-2 Diabetes (also termed as adult-onset diabetes) due to being overweight.

Other health conditions such as high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure  (which are some of the main risk factors for development of heart diseases), Sleep Apnea (interruption of breath while sleeping), risk of developing  liver diseases, orthopedic problems and asthma are prevalent in overweight children.

Part of the responsibility of a parent is to teach children how to lead healthy lives. The best time to start teaching these lessons to children is when they’re young, before unhealthy choices become lifelong bad habits. When you want to pass on healthy habits to your kids, it’s important to practice what you preach. Just telling your kids what to do won’t necessarily work—they need to see you choosing healthy behaviors too.

Top 10 Ways to Help Children Develop Healthy Habits

1. Be a positive role model. If you’re practicing healthy habits, it’s a lot easier to convince children to do the same.

2. Get the whole family active. Plan times for everyone to get moving together. Take walks, ride bikes, go swimming, garden or just play hide-and-seek outside. Everyone will benefit from the exercise and the time together.

3. Limit TV, video game and computer time. These habits lead to a sedentary lifestyle and excessive snacking, which increase risks for obesity and cardiovascular disease.

4. Encourage physical activities that children really enjoy. Every child is unique. Let children experiment with different activities until each finds something that he or she really loves doing. They’ll stick with it longer if they love it.

5. Be supportive. Focus on the positive instead of the negative. Everyone likes to be praised for a job well done. Celebrate successes and help children and teens develop a good self-image.

6. Set specific goals and limits, such as one hour of physical activity a day or two desserts per week other than fruit. When goals are too abstract or limits too restrictive, the chance for success decreases.

7. Don’t reward children with food. Candy and snacks as a reward encourage bad habits. Find other ways to celebrate good behavior.

8. Make dinnertime a family time. When everyone sits down together to eat, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Get the kids involved in cooking and planning meals. Everyone develops good eating habits together and the quality time with the family will be an added bonus.

9. Make a game of reading food labels. The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat. It’s a habit that helps change behavior for a lifetime.

10. Stay involved. Be an advocate for healthier children. Insist on good food choices at school. Make sure your children’s healthcare providers are monitoring cardiovascular indicators like BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol. Contact public officials on matters of the heart. Make your voice heard.