Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Family Behavior Plays Role in Childhood Obesity

In some ways, this topic is a big "Duh." Of course family habits impact the health of the child. But as someone who struggles with my weight, I know that solving that problem is easier said than done. Plus, even as I struggle with my weight, I want to keep my child from having the same problems.

The Washington Post recently ran Slimming Down: It's a Family Affair, an article about how family habits impact childhood obesity. The overriding theme is: If one person - especially a child - has a weight problem, then everybody needs to change their habits. Here's a line that stuck out for me:
"Parents need to remember that "your habits are their habits," Hassink says. So let your children see you snacking on a bag of carrots, rather than a bag of Fritos.

That's what kills me about my own weight problem and why I so want to get a handle on it. My husband and I were always thin as children and then one day - boom - we both had a weight problem. We want our child to have a healthy-weight childhood, but also learn habits that will keep her healthy over her lifetime. Clearly, our parents controlled our environment without teaching us much about managing our weight. On the other hand, we both also thought we could eat anything and stay thin. We were wrong, but we were also at a loss on how to become healthy without starving to death. For me, hunger is the death of a weight-loss program.

Often, I'll eat bad foods late at night, when I think my daughter won't know. But that's a short-term solution - eventually, she'll be old enough to hear me munching on chips or making numerous trips to the fridge and understand that I'm eating late at night. Or she'll catch me.

My weight loss history is a long, sorted mess of a story, but my most recent effort is to work with an internist who specializes in weight loss. She treats obesity by addressing underlying issues of health, such as low serotonine, sleep problems, and insulin-resistance. She also teaches her patients how to eat at regular intervals and meet a certain number of carbs at every snack and meal so your body knows it has plenty of energy and won't trigger overeating. She also gives you an appetite suppressant, which I use occasionally. So far, it's working.

The Post article offers suggestions on changing habits as a family - including turning off the TV. But here's a simple thing you can do that's not mentioned: Make sure your child gets enough sleep. A recent London study found a link between inadequate sleep and obesity in children. Doctors also believe sleep and weight problems are linked in adults, which is why my doctor is sending me for a sleep study.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Family Dinner - It Doesn't Have to be Hard

Panera Bread, in conjunction with Take Back Your Time, is running a campaign to help families Reclaim Dinnertime.

Of course, it's a PR effort designed to bring you into their restaurants, but the point is well-taken: Why do I feel family dinner is only family dinner if we're at home, sitting around a homemade meal, complete with real dishes and silverware? There's no reason we can't reconnect at a reasonably quiet restaurant, particularly one where you can refill your own coffee. Plus, Panera really does have healthy choices for children and adults. They offer Horizon milk and organic yogurt with the kid's meals. But be careful to read the nutritional information - I was surprised by how many calories were in most of the salads.

This idea might work with older children, but anyone with a child under 6 will tell you that eating out is more of a battle than a relaxing family dinner. Young children are more interested in exploring than conversation, more likely to throw food or spill drinks than eat quietly between answering questions about their day.
Families of young children can take a tip from stay-at-home moms, though. If you visit any family-friendly restaurant - read: Anyplace with an indoor playground - you'll find scores of stay-at-home moms sipping coffee while their children run wild on the playground like the natural savages they are. You can actually have a friendly conversation for maybe 10 minutes without being interrupted. There's no reasons families can't use this same space in the evenings so parents have a chance to reconnect.

Another idea might be to pick up a healthy meal to-go and then enjoy it at home.

If you think family dinners are overrated, be sure to peruse the Panera site. Here are a few facts about the impact of family dinners on children:

One study found that meals at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems in children. That makes family mealtimes more influential in these areas than sports, studying, school and even church!

A federally-funded study of teenagers found a strong association between family dinners five or more times per week with at least one parent and academic success, lower rates of drug and alcohol use, suicide and psychological adjustment.

Family dinners are also linked to healthier eating patterns for children and a reduced incidence of smoking.

If you're not up on take out, you can always pick up a roast chicken or pork loin at your local grocery, along with salad fixings. Even children as young as three can be involved in helping you prepare the meal - kids love to wash lettuce, use the salad spinner and help set the table. It's tempting to keep young children out of the meal preparation, since you can always do it faster and better than they can, but there are three important reasons you should involve even preschoolers:
1. It gives them a feeling of belonging and importance, so it builds self-esteem.
2. It lets them know they're expected to pitch in and contribute to the family chores.
3. They like to help. A lot.

So. What's for dinner tonight?

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A Little Bit About My Family

Some people just know how to be a family. They do exciting family hobbies, like Geocaching, pass down family recipes and just feel great about their families.

But that's not always the case. In fact, I'd argue those people are more the exception than the rule. Some of us have ideas about family, but know we could use some improving. I'm that person. My family nights tend to involve a lot of TV and take out. And many times, my husband split up the evenings - I work or run errands while he watches our tot. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But sometimes, it feels like we're running a relay race instead of acting like a family. "Are you up from your nap? Can I nap now?" "Good - you're home. I gotta work. Just make spaghetti tonight and call me when it's ready."

Still, the idea of sitting down and having a family game night or Macaroni Duck night seems too contrived...and often, our preschooler has other ideas about how she wants to spend her time. None of us are good at routines and rules - something all the pros tell you that you MUST do if you want a well-run home.

I'm not sure I want a well-run home, but I do to build a strong, bonded family. And then there's the extended family - why is it I never see my sister or brother, though they live within a few blocks of my home? Why do we all dread Christmas at grandma's house? What can I do to bring all of us together in a happier, healthier way? Or is this whole idea of the close-knit family a myth we tell ourselves to get through life?

This blog will look at building a family. Occasionally, you may find tips for good family games or recipes. But I also hope to explore larger, society issues and questions.