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Fort Hood Press Center

Parents are role models for eating and exercise; Children mimic what they see

By Brandy Gill

CRDAMC Public Affairs

 FORT HOOD, Texas – A cookie, a soft drink or an occasional fast-food dinner shouldn’t cause much concern for parents of military children, but for those children struggling with weight, there can be too much of a good thing.

According to First Lady Michelle Obama’s official “Let’s Move” website, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last 30 years. The website claims lifestyle changes, including decreased physical activity and enormous portions sizes, are to blame for the rise.

“Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a healthy weight. Kids walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess, participated in gym class, and played for hours after school before dinner,” it states.  “Meals were home-cooked with reasonable portion sizes and there was always a vegetable on the plate. Eating fast food was rare and snacking between meals was an occasional treat.”

Times have changed.

While many parents and caregivers believe kids need snacks and treats, it’s important to remember to balance these occasions with healthy food choices, appropriate portions and most importantly, a lot of physical activity, Ruth Holje Manuele, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center registered dietitian, said.

“Children should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing they can do. It doesn’t have to be all at once. They can split it up, but they should try and get at least 60 minutes.”

Sixty minutes can sound overwhelming, especially for those who aren’t used to getting a lot of exercise, but parents can break the requirement up in many different ways so children don’t give up. In fact 10-minute play intervals six times a day are just as beneficial as a 60-minute block.

Col. (Dr.) Mark Croley, chief of Pediatrics at CRDAMC, agreed the 60-minute goal is important, but he said quality is just as important as quantity.

“Walking down to the mailbox is a good start, but you really want them to be engaged in aerobic exercise, something that will get their heart rates up, like organized sports,” he said.

If you’re a parent who thinks a fun-run doesn’t really sound like much fun, remember there are a lot of activities that can be both good exercise and fun. Try taking a long family walk. Play catch, tag or hide and seek. Bring out a jump rope or hoola hoop, or take a bike ride.

Of course, while physical activity is important, it is only half the battle, Holje Manuele said.

“When a Family comes in we talk about their lifestyle, activity levels, what they’re eating and drinking, and I always ask if they have a parent who is currently deployed or just returning from a deployment,” she said. “Deployed parents just add a whole other dimension that affects military children.”

Once they have discussed all of these factors with the Family, the dietitians help the parents and children create a plan to help them reach their goals.

“We have Families prepare a contract for a healthy lifestyle that helps set realistic goals highlighting healthy eating habits like eating every three to five hours, eating only enough to fill the child’s stomach without stretching it, and incorporating fruits and vegetables every day,” she said.

Croley agreed that it is important for the whole Family to be included when planning a healthy diet.

“Parents are the best models and teachers for their children,” he said. “Children are going to mimic what they see. If they (parents) are eating healthy foods and they are physically active then their children are going to be too.”

If you have concerns about your child’s weight, contact your child’s primary care provider or call the Nutrition Clinic at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, 254-288-8860, to make an appointment.

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