Every family has habits, and traditions or rituals that influence and govern behaviour and inclinations. Some of these might be healthy (a monthly hike up Lion's Head) and some not so healthy (after dinner sugar laden desserts).
Whatever habits we establish as families become learnt behaviours that run deep. Consciously or not, children mimic their parents' behaviours and the fundamental origin of who we are is a direct result of our upbringing. Now is a good time to take a look at the dietary and lifestyle habits your kids are picking up. Are they healthy?
Professor Hans de Ridder from North West University (NWU) in Johannesburg maintains that South Africa has a 'big fat problem'. Women have the highest obesity problem and South Africans are the third most obese in the world.
As we know, obesity can lead to diabetes, cancer and heart disease. This is a growing issue that will not be solved overnight and will take a huge amount of public awareness, campaigning and support to change this growing trend. Other countries like the UK and USA are struggling with the same issues and have been able to throw a huge amount of resources at the problem. But still it will take trans-generational change over time to improve the statistics. Although this is a national (and global) problem, the solution starts at home.
In the UK, they launched a campaign a few years ago to promote the advantages of children and adults eating a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This was aimed at reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. It's these small and habitual lifestyle changes that make a big difference.
FINDING DIETARY BALANCE
A balanced and healthy diet should include ample fruit and vegetables as the main intake, then carbohydrates and smaller amounts of protein. More and more studies are showing the negative effects of sugar and its important to find alternative sources of sweeteners. It is essential that we as adults instill healthy eating options in our children right from the start.
For starters, make sure you create a breakfast habit. Research shows that breakfast as the most important meal of the day. Test scores and marks are higher amongst breakfast eaters who have higher levels of concentration and focus. Around one third of kids still show up at school without having had breakfast.
MAKING EXERCISE WORK
Exercise is another biggie. Studies suggest an optimal 30 minutes of exercise a day, which can be anything from walking, running, to swimming or cycling.
Many South Africans are accustomed to driving everywhere. Perhaps we should question this at times and ask ourselves if we can change that habit and walk instead. There is an app on the market called 'Silent Log' that measures how active you are just by having your phone with you.
PASS ON GOOD CHOICES
Our family habits are often unquestioned or unexamined. These evolve organically over time and generally speaking we pass on our own experiences around eating and exercise to our children. Swapping activities like watching TV or gaming for a family cycling excursion or eating salad instead of sandwiches are small changes with a lot of impact.
As parents we need to evaluate our own family culture around well being and consciously decide as a family to change or improve some of the habits. Remember, children are highly influenced by their parents, and we need to be good role models.
If you decide to change your eating/exercise habits, it is important to talk to your children about this and help them understand the changes you want to make and why. This way you can get buy in from the children and get them to contribute to new ways of doing things. Your changes will be more sustainable with positive input from the kids.
DID YOU KNOW? Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled among kids in all age groups. Introducing a special 'family fitness' time has positive physical benefits but is also a great way for families to bond.
Georgina is a Child and Family Specialist, originally from the UK, and offers therapeutic support, tools and advice to parents, children and families. See more at: www.systemic-therapist.co.za
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