As obesity rates increase in children, the number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is also rising. Both conditions not only rob kids of good health early in life, they set children up for serious health problems as adults.
Olga Gupta, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist and Medical Director of the Center for Obesity and its Consequences in Health (COACH) at Children’s Health℠ and researcher at the Touchstone Diabetes Center at UT Southwestern, says three trends are contributing to the surge in obesity and type 2 diabetes.
"An increase in hidden sweeteners, portion distortion and mindless eating have all contributed to the escalating obesity and diabetes numbers," she says.
Taking a look at how those trends have impacted your family's diet and lifestyle is the first step to improving the health of your family and preventing future problems.
The American Heart Association recommends children ages 2-18 get no more than 25 grams – just 6 teaspoons – of added sugar per day. It might not be that hard to track if it was only a matter of watching what's spooned out from the sugar bowl. Unfortunately, added sugars (those that don't occur naturally in foods) have many different aliases and show up in all kinds of foods. You might be surprised to know that ketchup, crackers, bread, soups, cereals, peanut butter, cured meats and salad dressings contain added sugars. The most common names for sugar you'll see in ingredient lists include:
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Words that end in –ose (such as dextrose or fructose)
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Evaporated cane juice
Because most processed foods contain sugar, the easiest way to eliminate added sugars is to replace sugary drinks with water and eat more whole foods — fruits, vegetables and whole grains. That gives you a reason to shop and cook as a family more often.
Research shows that the average food portions at fast food and sit-down restaurants has ballooned. Dinner plates have grown to accommodate bigger portions, going from about 10 inches in the 1980s to 12 inches by 2000.
Food is also being packaged in larger portions. Although single-serving packages have become popular, many foods and drinks come in two or more servings per package (such as a 20-ounce soda). Check the label for the number of servings in the container.
Unfortunately, as we become accustomed to larger portions, it can be difficult to recognize when we are full – especially with foods we really enjoy. However, children can be taught to pay attention to fullness cues. One way is to avoid using the “clean your plate” rule. If your child regularly leaves a lot of uneaten food, serve a smaller portion.
Your child needs food to grow, but in the right amount to stay healthy. That will change as he or she grows, too. When you learn the right serving sizes of food by age, you can help your child maintain a healthy weight and develop good eating habits.
Mindless eating means not consciously participating in consuming food, or not making hunger-based decisions about eating. It shows up in all kinds of ways, such as distracted snacking while watching television or playing video games, or giving your child snacks to keep them happy while you run errands – even if they are not hungry.
No matter how it starts, mindless eating can contribute to forming a bad relationship with food and bad eating habits – such as eating the wrong things or too much, or eating to distract or soothe. The end result can eventually lead to lifelong weight and health problems.
Teaching your child how to eat mindfully takes mindful parenting. That means thinking about how you talk about and use food. Help your child learn to eat mindfully by:
- Teaching him or her to learn what it feels like to be hungry
- Knowing it's okay to be a little hungry
- Using food to nourish, not to pacify or reward
- Eating only at the table whenever possible, with no distractions like toys or television
You can teach your child about healthy eating by talking with him or her about food, eating and weight. You can show your support for a healthy lifestyle by making it a priority for the whole family. If you suspect your child has symptoms of diabetes, talk with your family pediatrician or an endocrinology specialist.
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