Parental Influence: Do as I Do

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Parenting is full of contradiction. “Do as I say not as I do.” Regretfully, this ill-conceived advice is still being modeled by those who intended better than they practiced. The by-product of this double standard generation raised more than children. Liberated from childhood’s restrictions, our generation exercised its freedom by ushering in the most crippling health crisis in American history – modern obesity.

We love our children, as did our parents. If we have learned anything we now know that health decisions we make for our young children today will still count when they are 50 years old. A growing body of clinical evidence shows that childhood is actually the best time to start protecting an aging body. “Do as we do regardless of what the advertisers say,” is an enlightened mantra for all of us to follow.

Most parents would never dream of putting a child in a car without a seat belt, or ride a bike without a helmet. But what about the things that will end up killing most of our children once they reach adulthood? How can you go about protecting your child from heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and high blood pressure? It all starts in childhood where the only window of opportunity to markedly influence certain aspects of later health exists. What health impacts will you as their parents have upon their vulnerable lives?

DO AS I DO, not as the advertisers say.

We know that eating behavior and food preferences, perhaps the biggest determinants of long-term health are primarily decided in childhood and adolescence. Studies show that eating habits and obesity can affect risks for diabetes, liver and heart disease, and many other health problems. And while adults certainly have the power to change their eating patterns, much of how we eat and what we like to eat is powerfully programmed by our experiences in childhood, making us exceedingly resistant to change as adults.

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Many of you as parents already know that healthy eating habits, exercise and weight management are the keys to long-term health. This is not an opinion. I know from which I speak from years of experience performing psych assessments for a prominent Bariatric Surgeon. I’ve worked in adolescent and adult obesity for years. The challenge is how do you get your children to follow these practices? It seems like an insurmountable challenge in a world where the Golden Arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross. Surprisingly, influencing a child’s lifelong health isn’t about big changes. In fact a series of small, subtle shifts in the way you raise your children can actually translate into huge advantages well into adulthood.

The next time you sit around the table while eating with the TV turned off begin a discussion about the small, simple changes everyone in your family can make resulting in a powerful influence on everyone’s future health and happiness. Remember, children are emulators; more things are caught than taught.

You owe it to those who will never think to thank you.