By Meghan Vivo
When it comes to diet and exercise, what is “normal”? For many of us, our concept of “normal” is based, whether consciously or subconsciously, on whatever we grew up with.
Kids who are raised in homes where fruit is considered a dessert, and an evening walk or friendly sporting competition are staples of nighttime entertainment, will likely grow into adults who naturally gravitate toward healthy habits. On the flip side, children from homes full of junk food, sweets, television, and video games may marvel as adults at how one could possibly believe that fruits, vegetables, and daily physical activity are “normal.”
While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, and a night of television watching doesn’t instantly spell obesity, one fact is clear: Healthy habits start at home.
Even though parents may feel that they have lost all influence over their teenagers’ behavior, studies show otherwise.
In a recent policy brief titled “Teen Dietary Habits Related to Those of Parents,” released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, researchers found that adolescents are more likely to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day if their parents do. The opposite is also true: Teens whose parents eat fast food or drink soda are more likely to follow suit.
While many other factors play into a teen’s dietary habits – including the accessibility of fast food, advertising targeted at younger audiences, and genetic, environmental, and social influences, just to name a few – center research scientist Susan H. Babey, a co-author of the policy brief, reminds us, “If parents are eating poorly, chances are their kids are too.”
Healthy Parents, Healthy Kids
Based upon responses from thousands of California teenagers in the center’s California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation’s largest state health survey, the researchers made the following findings:
Even if you are met with rolling eyes, pouting faces, and snide remarks from your teens, believe it or not, they are watching and listening. You, the parent, are the primary role model for your children’s behavior, which gives you the power to positively – and negatively – impact their health.
Educate yourself about healthy food choices and look for recipes online to get the whole family involved in sharing wholesome meals. Kids who participate in family meals are not only more likely to eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains, but they are also less likely to get involved with smoking, drinking, and using drugs. Start a few new healthy traditions in your household today – for your kids and for yourself.