A new statement by the American Heart Association called the “Caregiver Influences on Eating Behaviors in Young Children,”, which appears in the Journal of the American Heart Association states that the way a child is made to follow a certain diet is as important as the diet itself.
In fact, the ways in which a parent chooses to feed specific foods to his child may also affect the future risk of developing health conditions such as obesity or even heart disease.
The statement focuses on particular ways and strategies for people with children and caregivers for creating healthier environments in order to avoid health problems in the children by maintaining weight during childhood as well as later in adulthood.
For instance, the researchers at AHA state that every person is born with the ability to determine when to eat and when to stop. However, this decision-making power can be overruled by certain environmental factors.
The behavior of the caregiver towards the child on the table is among many such factors. If the parent or caregiver pressurizes the child into eating any specific foods or is insistent, the child may give and continue eating despite being full.
Statistically, a big number of parents make their children eat by using forceful methods. Contrary to popular opinion, this can do more harm than good to the health of the child in the future.
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Allowing children to decide their own food choices as well as the quantity can help children understand portion sizes and take ownership of their diets.
This step, when followed with a range of healthy options, can significantly increase the chances of children making healthier choices and follow balanced diets in the future.
The assistant professor at the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agriculture Research Services Children’s Nutrition Research Center and the department of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the chair of the writing group for the AHA statement, Alexis C. Wood, explains:
“Parents and caregivers should consider building a positive food environment centered on healthy eating habits, rather than focusing on rigid rules about what and how a child should eat,”
According to the recent statement, the key is to create an environment that encourages making healthier choices in lifestyle and diet rather than one that is forceful and controlling for the children.
This can be done in multiple ways including by giving a variety of options to a child as well as introducing new equally healthy alternatives with time which will help in sticking to a healthy diet.
In addition, the conventional guidelines on healthy diets including smaller and more frequent food intake, drinking eight or more glasses of water, and not eating before bedtime should also be followed.
The best way to get a child to follow all such instructions is by demonstration. Parents who set an example are more likely to get their children to choose a similar diet and make similar choices in comparison with those who do not.
Secondly, the researchers in the statement also noted the problem of ‘picky’ eaters or when children become too stubborn to consume certain foods.
In such cases, parents are more likely to force their child to eat or even use the punish/reward method to make sure their child eats.
In accordance with research, such an authoritarian environment at home can actually encourage children to eat when they are not hungry or consume unhealthier foods when caregivers are not around or later in life, thereby increasing the risk of obesity and heart disease.
The researchers state such problems can be solved by following the same recommended methods which are providing a demonstration and offering children a wide variety of options.
Since health conditions like childhood obesity and heart disease are increasing day by day, it is important to follow such guidelines to make children aware of the significance of health and diet.