Children today are the next generation. Unfortunately, 10% of preschoolers in the U.S. are carrying enough extra pounds on their little bodies to be classified as obese, with an additional 10% being overweight. How tragic that kids who barely have had a chance at life are already off to such a burdensome start and have a high likelihood to be obese in adulthood. It has been the subject of a host of studies and finally they are getting to the root of the problem: the home.
A publication released recently from Penn State University’s Perelman School of Medicine concluded that in order for obesity prevention to be effective and sustainable, it needs to start in the earliest stages of child development. This only makes sense as children are largely the product of the environment they grew up in. Regardless of what the nutritional value of their school lunch, or the great new exercise program they learn about from the local recreation center, the habits they are learning at home will almost invariably dictate their health later in life. So, in order for their futures to be free of obesity, the environments in which they are brought up need to reflect the attitudes and habits that lead to healthy living.
All these things seem to be pointing a finger at parents to help their children be healthy. However, before they can help their kids, they need to learn to help themselves. As children watch their parent’s examples, they are observing the pattern that will likely reflect the rest of their lives. The concept of “do as I say and not as I do” is not an option. If parents want their kids to be healthy, they need to be healthy themselves.
There is the concern that healthy living is an expensive luxury that only the well-off can afford. A tired and overworked parent may have difficulty spending time doing active things with their family. Fresh, high quality food often costs more than the processed food that is so convenient and inexpensive. However, worthwhile goals are almost never easy to accomplish. Personal initiative and a willingness to change are a bigger part of the issue than given credit for. This may seem like a large amount of pressure on parents, but this does not warrant an apology. No outside program or curriculum will ever substitute for the individual efforts needed to make life better.
Parents then need to ask themselves a question: what kind of life do I want for my children? The question immediately following that should be: is my life a reflection of what I want for my children? The Penn State study calling attention to early childhood as the best time to start teaching about healthy lifestyles supports this notion further. The home is where the health of a nation begins.