Are your kids as healthy as they could be?
The early years of a child’s life are an important period in establishing positive attitudes and behaviours towards health. To give you an idea about the latest findings, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports interesting insights, including:
• 2.5% of children aged 5-14 and 3.3% of people aged 15-24 eat enough fruit and vegetables.
• 26% of children aged 5-14 and 22% of young people aged 15-24 are overweight or obese.
Encouraging your children to pursue an active lifestyle
The above statistics and insights are certainly concerning. That’s why it’s important to encourage your kids to lead a healthy lifestyle. Here are three ways to do just this.
1. Playing sports
The benefits of playing sport are well documented. Kids who are active in sport are fitter, healthier and more confident. Among other benefits, playing sports also:
• improves social skills
• improves physical health (agility, coordination, balance)
• lowers risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases
• improves mental health and wellbeing thanks to the release of endorphins
• promotes teamwork and problem solving
2. Exercising as a family
Why not hit two birds with one stone? On one hand, exercise has a number of physical and psychological benefits, including better fitness, greater strength, improved sleep, and reduced stress.
On the other hand, exercising with your family is a great way to strengthen interpersonal relationships, boost yours and your children’s social and emotional development, and simply have fun together.
3. Using Technology
The 2018 Australian Parents & Technology Report has revealed that 11.2% of children own a fitness tracker.
Kids love technology. Using fitness-tracking technology can be a simple way to encourage your kids to to motivate them and set health and fitness goals. It allows your children to learn how to be accountable for their own health, which is a valuable lesson to learn as they grow up. At the other end of the spectrum it is also recommended to avoid any behaviors such as calorie counting that may alter their relationship with food in a negative fashion over the long-term.
Some devices are more expensive than others, so make sure you do some research before making any purchases.
The importance of good nutrition
Children might be picky eaters at times, but it’s crucial to encourage healthy eating – for their physical and mental health.
Proper nutrition helps in the development of bones and muscles in their early years, prevents the likelihood of nutritional deficiencies and obesity, and improves learning concentration and mental wellbeing.
While it’s hard enough to judge what kind of food to eat as an adult, it can be even more stressful when choosing what food your child should eat. Consult your doctor or nutritionist, they will have the most insight to help you make your decision.
The experts at Mayo Clinic have detailed nutritional guidelines for children, but the following foods are good place to start:
• Lean red meat (beef, lamb, veal, pork)
• Lean poultry (chicken and turkey)
• Fruit, either fresh, diced, frozen or dried. Avoid fruit juices with added sugar
• A variety of vegetables throughout the week
• Whole grains (oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice and wholemeal bread)
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy
So, what nutrients do your children need? For a growing body, it’s important your children consume a balanced diet of:
• Protein: Protein can be found in meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds, as well as dairy. It is used to build and repair tissue, while also helps to create chemicals in the body like hormones.
• Zinc: Traditionally oysters have the highest levels of zinc. Other fish, meats, dairy and nuts are also good sources of zinc. Zinc is crucial for helping the body repel bacteria and viruses, assists with taste and smell, as well as contributes to the creation of proteins.
• Iron: A lack of iron means your body won’t have the required hemoglobin levels for red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Meats, legumes, fortified grains and dark leafy vegetables are great sources of iron.
• Choline: Choline plays an important role in the function of several organs, such as the brain and liver. Foods rich in choline include peanuts, eggs and liver.
• Iodine: Iodine is essential for creating thyroid hormones, which control the body’s metabolism. Sea vegetables like nori, hijiki and wakame are rich in iodine.
• Vitamin A: An essential vitamin for vision and the immune system. Beef liver, raw carrots and fish oil are high in vitamin A.
• Vitamin D: Sunshine is often the most prescribed source for Vitamin D, although fatty fish like salmon are good too. Vitamin D allows your body to absorb calcium, which in turn assists with healthy bone development.
• Vitamin B6: Starchy veggies and non-citrus fruits are a great source for Vitamin B6. It assists with healthy metabolic and adrenal functions as well as keeps the nervous system healthy.
• Vitamin B12: Most meats, fish, eggs, and dairy play host to this vitamin, which is good for the health of blood and nerve cells.
• Omega-3 fatty acids: Often found in fatty fish, this can assist with lowering a person’s risk of heart disease, dementia, arthritis and depression.
The role of a healthy mind
Having a healthy mind is just as important as having a healthy body. People often think it’s only adults who suffer from mental health problems, but the truth is, infants and younger children can also be prone. But what can you do to help build a healthy mind?
Building loving and strong family relationships is key. You can develop these by listening to your children, respecting their feelings, creating a safe environment at home, encouraging them to solve problems, and boosting their self-esteem and confidence.
Remember, if your child is having a really tough time, there’s no shame in seeking professional help. The best you can do is support them, nudge them in the right direction, and be a positive role model for healthy living.
At the end of the day, you are your child’s role model. So, do your best to lead by example and inspire your children to be healthiest, happiest and best they can be.
Dr Ryan Harvey is the Deputy Clinical Director at House Call Doctor. Dr Harvey is highly experienced in paediatrics, and has administered medical care to children living in remote overseas communities. He now works with many families, administering acute care when unexpected medical situations arise overnight.