HOW TO RAISE HEALTH­IER CHLDREN

WHO WILL LIVE LONGER THAN YOU

Your Baby & Toddler - - Front Page - BY TRACEY HAWTHORNE

We know what we should be do­ing, but we are rais­ing un­health­ier chil­dren than ever. We need to stop – and this is how

It was a shock find­ing: that the trend in hu­man life ex­pectancy, which has been char­ac­terised by a slow, steady in­crease over the past thou­sand years, will come to an end with the next gen­er­a­tion. In other words, chil­dren alive to­day will die younger than their par­ents.

De­spite tech­nol­ogy and medicine be­ing more ad­vanced than ever, to­day’s chil­dren are tired and stressed, and many are bat­tling obe­sity. This was ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine back in 2005. Since then, things have got worse, es­pe­cially with obe­sity-re­lated ill­nesses such as di­a­betes on the rise. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, obe­sity has more than dou­bled in chil­dren and quadru­pled in ado­les­cents in the past 30 years. And, says a study pub­lished in BMC Obe­sity this year, Africa has the fastest growth rates of obe­sity among preschool chil­dren, and South Africa is among the coun­tries with the high­est child obe­sity rates.

While poor eating habits and a seden­tary life­style can be blamed for many of the ills be­set­ting kids to­day, they’re not the only rea­sons for our chil­dren’s less-than-stel­lar long-term out­look. Stress also plays a sig­nif­i­cant role. But we must try to re­verse this trend. Here are the things you can do to im­prove your child’s health.

BOND RIGHT FROM THE BE­GIN­NING

“Lov­ing care is one of the most ba­sic things that chil­dren need to thrive,” says Zelda Ackerman, a regis­tered di­eti­cian with Fam­ily First Nu­tri­tion. “When a baby is with her mom, specif­i­cally dur­ing skinto-skin con­tact dur­ing breast­feed­ing, she feels safe and se­cure, and this helps her to grow and de­velop op­ti­mally. Feed­ing and the emo­tional well­be­ing of ba­bies are thus closely re­lated.”

As your kids get older, “Re­mem­ber to hug your child daily and let them sit on your lap when you’re talk­ing to each other,” says Gill Naeser, an early child­hood de­vel­op­ment spe­cial­ist.

FOOD SE­CU­RITY FIRST

“Reg­u­lar meals and snacks pro­vide chil­dren with the se­cu­rity that food is

avail­able when they need it,” says Zelda. “This en­ables chil­dren to eat only un­til they’ve had enough, and not to overeat as if they do not know when they’ll get food again.”

“Eat meals as a fam­ily, in a pos­i­tive and car­ing at­mos­phere,” she adds. “Chil­dren can face more chal­lenges when they know they’re not alone, but they have a sup­port­ive fam­ily be­hind them.”

AVOID OVERSCHEDU­LING

“Chil­dren need time for un­struc­tured phys­i­cal play, in the park or out­side,” says Gill. “With to­day’s rushed and busy life­styles, this isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble, which of­ten re­sults in par­ents sched­ul­ing ex­tra­mu­ral ac­tiv­i­ties for their chil­dren. If, how­ever, they have too many ac­tiv­i­ties, they may not get the time they need to be chil­dren.”

The num­ber of ex­tra­mu­rals will de­pend on the child – some kids en­joy be­ing very busy and so­cial, while oth­ers pre­fer a qui­eter and more soli­tary life. “Your child should en­joy the ac­tiv­ity but still have en­ergy to do other things at home af­ter­wards,” says Gill.

TALK TIME

“Chil­dren pick up stress from the adults around them,” says Gill. “If your fam­ily is un­der­go­ing a dif­fi­cult change, such as ill­ness, death or di­vorce, and you’re stressed as a re­sult, talk to your chil­dren about how you’re feel­ing and ex­plain that they’re not re­spon­si­ble for what’s hap­pen­ing.” Let your child ask ques­tions and al­ways try to be fac­tual in the an­swers you give, she adds.

TURN OFF THE TV

Watch­ing too much TV not only takes the place of health­ier and more ap­pro­pri­ate child­hood ac­tiv­i­ties such as play­ing, but also of­ten ex­poses kids to dis­turb­ing im­ages that may cause them un­nec­es­sary stress and worry.

“Watch­ing the news ex­poses chil­dren to dis­turb­ing im­ages such as vi­o­lence and dis­as­ters,” Gill points out. “Par­ents need to su­per­vise what their chil­dren see on tele­vi­sion, and if there’s a dis­turb­ing im­age, they need to talk to them about what they’ve seen and try to al­le­vi­ate any fears that this may hap­pen to them.”

TEACH BY EX­AM­PLE

Healthy life­style choices, such as con­cen­trat­ing on less­en­ing stress through mak­ing time to re­lax and reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, will be mod­elled by chil­dren. “Walk in your neigh­bour­hood as a fam­ily, go to a park on week­ends, play ball out­side, or have fun in the swim­ming pool,” Zelda ad­vises.

“Many adults eat to feel bet­ter,” she con­tin­ues. “Of­ten with­out re­al­is­ing it, they teach this to kids, and this may lead to their chil­dren in­dulging in ‘emo­tional eating’ later in life.”

FIND A BAL­ANCE

“Chil­dren need a bal­anced life­style to cope with the stress around them,” says Gill. “They need good, healthy, bal­anced food, time for phys­i­cal play, and time to play qui­etly, as well as a daily rou­tine so that they feel safe. And let­ting your child make small choices, such as what colour to wear, will help them feel in con­trol.”

SLEEP IS ES­SEN­TIAL

Chil­dren need to get enough sleep to be able to cope with their busy days. “Don’t al­low TV or com­puter games near bed­time, don’t have a TV in the bed­room, and have a bed­time rou­tine that helps your chil­dren un­wind,” Zelda says. “Read­ing a story or play­ing quiet mu­sic are calm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties at bed­time,” says Gill.

Chil­dren up to the age of five years need about 12 hours of sleep a night, although this can vary fairly widely be­tween in­di­vid­u­als, from as lit­tle as 9 hours for a baby to as much as 15 hours for a 2-year-old.

MANY ADULTS EAT TO FEEL BET­TER AND WITH­OUT RE­AL­IS­ING IT, THEY TEACH THIS TO THEIR KIDS

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