Getting your kids to eat right and exercise often depends on your own actions. Make diabetes prevention a family affair by becoming a healthy role model.
Falling into bad habits is easy when raising a family. You’re constantly on the go: running to work, shuttling kids, keeping up with household chores. It’s no surprise, then, that finding time to eat right and exercise can fall by the wayside.
While poor health habits aren’t good for anyone, they’re especially dangerous for parents with a history of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise among children and teenagers. And although genetics plays a significant role—approximately 45% to 80% of affected kids have at least one parent with diabetes—obesity is also a major factor.
Parents can help reverse this trend by encouraging healthy habits—and discouraging bad ones. In fact, modest weight loss and regular moderate exercise (even walking) can cut the risk of developing diabetes by more than half, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center, the global leader in diabetes research, care and education.
Read on for a few simple lifestyle changes you can make to slash your child’s diabetes risk.
Start the day right. Do you insist that your children eat breakfast, but find yourself rushing to work on an empty stomach or grabbing a donut along the way? Say it once, say it twice: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially when it comes to controlling blood sugar and weight. Studies show that people who skip breakfast consume more calories throughout the day, because they tend to snack on high-calorie foods or overeat at lunch. Even if you get in a quick bowl of oatmeal and half a banana or grab a yogurt to go, you’re teaching your kids the importance of fueling the body and brain with a morning meal.
Strive for family sit-down meals. Your husband is snacking in front of the TV. Your daughter is eating in her room while texting friends. And you’re dining a la standing at the kitchen counter. Sound familiar? Although eating together every night may be unrealistic, it’s important that you strive to make dinnertime a family affair at least a few nights a week. According to a University of Minnesota study, kids who eat with their families tend to snack less and consume more fruits and vegetables.
Take care with condiments. Teaching your youngsters to cover healthy foods with sauces is a slippery, sugary slope. Ketchup has about 1 teaspoon of sugar in every 1-tablespoon serving. Barbecue sauce has 2 teaspoons in every ounce. Even fat-free salad dressing can be laden with sugar—as much as 2 teaspoons per 2 tablespoons. So don’t automatically place condiments on the table. And buy ones that are low in sugar: Remember, ingredients are listed on food labels based on amount, from highest to lowest, so watch out for ones that start with sugar, corn syrup, glucose, fructose or lactose. And for a healthy dip base, try nonfat Greek yogurt; add dill, cucumbers and chopped onion and scoop then up with carrot and celery sticks!
Dish out healthy portions. An average bagel used to be three inches and 140 calories; today it’s six inches and 350 calories, or more, so it’s understandable if you’ve lost touch with what a healthy portion looks like. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep measuring cups, a food scale and other devices on your kitchen counter. After a while, you’ll easily be able to eyeball servings. That way, if your children enjoy licking their plate clean, you can rest assured they’re getting just what they need.
Keep the conversation flowing. It’s a good way to slow down everyone’s eating, giving the brain a chance to receive fullness cues from the stomach. Try this: Create a conversation jar. Have family members jot down a question on slips of paper. For example, “Where should we go on vacation this summer?” “What gets you really mad?” “What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you?” Then, each night, take turns picking out a question slip.
Load up on veggies. Look at your dinner plate. Are there piles of starchy carbs and fatty meats? Your kids won’t eat vegetables if you don’t eat them, too. According to the American Diabetes Association, filling one-half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, such as spinach, squash, tomatoes and broccoli, can help prevent diabetes. Still can’t convince the kids? Plenty of recipes are online to help you sneak veggies into meals.
Say no to salt. Put the saltshaker down. Or, better yet, don’t put it on the table at all. Kids won’t think about salting their food unless they see you doing it. Not only can high levels of sodium lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for those with diabetes, but some studies say that salt addictions can cause food cravings. Can’t shake the habit? Make food more flavorful by using herbs and spices known to protect against diabetes, such as oregano, marjoram, sage and cinnamon.
Say yes to sleep. A lack of sleep has been linked to a host of health conditions, including a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. School-age children who get the recommended 9 to 10½ hours of sleep a night are less likely to be obese or have high cholesterol or high blood sugar levels—and a good night’s sleep can improve your child’s mood and attention span. Set a time when all electronics must be shut down—that goes for you and your partner, too—to get your family into a healthy sleep ritual.
Don’t make foods forbidden. Just as you don’t want to allow your kids to gorge on junk food whenever they want, you also don’t want to label any food as “bad” or “off-limits.” Doing so may increase your child’s fascination with the foods and cause sugar binges. Instead, let your children know that certain foods—cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream—are only for special occasions. Eating sweets in moderation won’t harm your or your child’s health. So go ahead and have a small slice of that birthday cake—without feeling guilty about it.
Make activity normal. Don’t call it exercise . . . just make it a natural part of your day to, say, walk to the grocery store instead of automatically hopping into the car, take the stairs instead of opting for the elevator, or keep dance tunes playing while prepping dinner to encourage little kitchen helpers to sway to the beat. Play tag, Twister, Simon Says or musical chairs. The goal is for the gang to spend more time on their feet and less time on their rears (unless they’re riding a bike!). Just 20 minutes of daily exercise can protect kids from diabetes, according to a study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). You’ll all benefit—and, hey, it can be plain fun!