By: Beth Walsh for Uterus1
A couch-potato lifestyle starts early. Toddlers consume 46 calories for every hour they spend watching television, according to Project Viva, a childhood nutrition study of more than 1,200 toddlers in Massachusetts sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
|Participate in activities like biking and walking as a family. Plan active family outings such as hiking or skiing. Limit the amount of time children watch television. Above all, set a good example. Children model their parents’ behavior.|
To improve children’s eating habits, regularly gather the family around the dinner table. Avoid other activities like TV during mealtimes. Avoid foods that are high in calories, fat or sugar. Offer kids nutritious, low calorie snacks such as fruit and yogurt. Don’t eat fast food more than once per week and try not to link food with reward or punishment.
This could be the start of unhealthy habits that contribute to middle school-aged obesity. About 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12 to 19) and 15.3 percent of children (ages six to 11) are obese. A survey conducted by the American Obesity Association found that 12 percent of parents consider their child overweight. Although not all obese infants become obese children, and not all obese children become obese adults, the prevalence of obesity increases with age among both males and females. There is also a greater likelihood that obesity beginning even in early childhood will persist through a person’s life.
The excess calories that TV-watching toddlers consume often come from sugary snacks and drinks. Meanwhile, every hour of TV or video viewing was associated with decreased servings of fruits and vegetables, a decrease in daily calcium consumption and a decrease in dietary fiber. And, each viewing hour was associated with an increase in servings of red or processed meats per day, an extra serving of juice per week, a slight increase in servings of fast food per month and an increase in daily consumption of energy from trans fats.
These associated increases in poor sources of energy and decreases in healthier fare were observed even though overall the children had viewing habits that were well within the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization recommends no TV viewing before age two and no more than two hours per day after age two. The average viewing time of the toddlers studied was only 1.7 hours a day.
Socioeconomic status apparently has little effect – 87 percent of the children came from families with household incomes of more than $40,000 a year and 72 percent of the mothers had at least a college degree.
Although watching television doesn’t necessarily mean children aren’t getting enough physical activity, numerous studies have indicated that increased viewing time results in decreased physical activity. Other studies have linked television viewing with increased snacking.
Teaching healthy behaviors at a young age is important because changing bad habits becomes more difficult as a child grows older. Parents are the most important role models for children, so establishing good nutrition and an active lifestyle begins at home.