The concern over the fitness of todays children and teenagers is growing, and more and more studies are being done to weigh the affect on not only their future, but also the expense to a health care system already burdened with escalating costs and cases.
A recent study found that American children are eating far too much fat and too many sweets. These include french fries, deserts, chips, salty snacks, candy and soft drinks. Only one-half are receiving the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This recommendation follows the guideline that the diet of a child should be thirty-three percent (33%) fruits and vegetables. Currently the average is sixteen percent (16%).
Added to poor dietary habits, children are also less active than previous generations. The technological advances of video games, computers, the internet and satellite T.V. have contributed to the near extinction of neighborhood kickball games, hide & seek, jungle gyms and many other outdoor activities that were once the only option for entertainment! But, you say, my child is getting the appropriate exercise at school, in gym class. Unfortunately, that may not be true.
With funding for some programs being cut at all grade levels, the daily dose of Physical Education for all ages is dwindling on the School front. Some elementary programs have cut back to a two or three day per week program, middle schools are dropping intramural sports and requiring less P.E. for students, and some high schools require as little as one-half credit of Physical Education. That translates to approximately nine-weeks, or ½ a semester, out of four years.
Why is it so important for children and teens to maintain a healthy diet and get enough physical activity? Well, for one thing their bodies are still growing and need the benefits of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients from fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and whole grain foods. It can also be argued that healthy eating habits (and poor ones!) can follow into adulthood. Other bodily functions that benefit from a healthy diet are; cell metabolism, cell production and regeneration, tissue formation, digestion and overall homeostasis. The theory that adipose (fat) cells are laid down (formed) during puberty is another argument against overloading on high fat foods. (You can decrease the size of a fat cell, but not the number of fat cells.)
Exercising during childhood and adolescence have invaluable effects on metabolism, blood sugar levels, bone density, weight, self-esteem, coordination, social skills and confidence. The more active we are, the better our body burns the fuel it is given, maintaining metabolism and blood sugar levels. Bone cells are continually dying off and reforming until our mid thirties, and then we’re stuck with what we have! It’s important to exercise and provide strong bone cells to replace the retiring cells, reducing the risk of osteoporosis in later years. If you feel your child is not getting enough exercise, or don’t know how to incorporate exercise and healthy eating habits into your lifestyle, here are a few suggestions.
- Make mealtime fun! Assign your child a portion of the meal to make. Children are more open to tasting new foods when they help prepare them.
- Eat as a family and include daily discussions with the meal. Turn the phone, TV or radio off.
- Include recommended serving sizes at each meal.
- Choose alternative snacks that are more healthy. (Low-fat, sugar free, juices, fruits)
- Avoid the “drive-thru”!
- Plan family activities at least two/three times a week. (Family walk, bikeride, badmitton game)
- Plan neighborhood activities (Block Olympics, jump rope contests, kickball games)
- Set a good example for your children by following nutrition & fitness guidelines yourself.
Fun, Nutritious Summer Snacks & Recipes
100% Fruit juice popsicle
Apples w/ Peanut Butter
Banana Split w/ frozen yogurt and fresh fruit
Fruit smoothies made w/ yogurt
Jell-O w/ fresh fruit mixed in Pizza crackers w/ lowfat cheese
Banana Split Pizzas Recipe – Let the Kids Help!
- 4-7 8 inch flour tortillas 1 ½ cup lowfat milk
- 1 tbsp. Butter, melted 1 ½ cup strawberries, sliced
- 14 oz. serving size vanilla instant pudding 2 medium bananas
- 1/4 cup lite chocolate topping 1/3 cup sprinkles (optional)
- Place tortillas on large baking sheet. Lightly brush top side of tortillas w/ melted butter. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes.
- Measure milk
- Place pudding mixture in medium size bowl. Add milk and mix.
- Wash strawberries, slice, slice bananas.
- Spread pudding over each tortilla. Arrange strawberries and bananas on top. Drizzle w/ chocolate topping. Decorate.
239 Calories, 41 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 55 g protein, 7 g fat, 56 mg calcium