With technology and the ease of access to information these days, kids are growing up, seemingly, too fast. But there’s a bigger issue at hand that needs urgent attention. Forget about growing ‘up’, what about growing ‘out’?
Childhood obesity is on the rise and adults have nobody to blame but themselves. The habits we instill in our children, the meals we provide them and the education we do, or don’t, pass on impacts their lifetime health decisions.
Too often I overhear adult conversations on buses or at restaurants expressing concern for the weight of their child. But aside from complaining, what are they doing about it? And frankly, have they taken a moment to observe their own health? It doesn’t appear so.
It’s time for some tough love St. Lucia. Kids are the future of this country and so far, it’s not looking bright.
I’d be lying if I said the transition will be easy. Children have established bad habits, ruined their taste buds and become addicted to sugar. And just like adults quitting smoking, most won’t change overnight, so it’s important to start with baby steps.
Before tackling our children’s issues, as the parent, teacher, role model, or whomever, we must first commit to changing ourselves. This means addressing our own health habits, leading by example and getting educated so we can pass on our knowledge. While it may not seem like kids are always listening, they often are. And more importantly, they’re observing.
Simply put, there is four predominant concerns in St. Lucia that I believe are attributing to the unhealthy state of children: Meal timing, carbohydrate choices, activity levels and juice. In this article, we’ll address the first two:
The pattern seems to be this: kids skip breakfast, eat a big lunch, maybe have dinner, snack and go to bed. And these awful habits shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Listen carefully; breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day. What people eat first thing in the morning sets the tone for the body’s day. By skipping breakfast, or eating something carbohydrate and sugar loaded (e.g. cereal) the body’s insulin response can damage, which regulates blood sugar levels. Without getting too technical, this means the body will turn into a fat storing machine!
Not just that, but skipping breakfast often results in intense hunger later, so children usually indulge in a large meal around lunch. And sadly, due to their lack of knowledge and strong cravings, it’s frequently laden with sugar and carbohydrates.
As a result, their blood sugar spikes and since the body is in an already fasted state, it drops just as quickly, causing an afternoon ‘crash’. You’ll notice it when your child (or you) gets sleepy or moody around 2:00-3:30pm. At that point, concentration and energy levels plummet.
Unfortunately this rollercoaster of blood sugar levels continues all day, simply because children try to satisfy hunger pangs caused by blood sugar crashes and previously skipped meals.
To stop this cycle, encourage your kids to eat breakfast and to continue to graze on snacks every 3-4 hours throughout the day (pack snacks!). Not big meals, but small, protein-rich meals that keep hormones balanced.
Look at your child’s plate: white bread, macaroni, ground provisions, white rice, chow mein . . . it’s primarily carbohydrates. While carbohydrates do serve a purpose in our diet, it’s not these simple and/or refined kinds. In fact, unless we’re athletes or have very active jobs, we don’t require as many carbohydrates (of any kind) as people often think.
The worst part about those choices is that since they contain no (or little) fiber, they get converted into glucose quickly inside the body. This again affects insulin response, blood sugar and various other hormones that manage our waistline.
So the best thing to do is to start promoting different choices in your household. Choose to encourage carbohydrates that are more fibrous, which don’t get converted into glucose as fast because they need to be further digested. Thus, you don’t get the same spike in blood sugar. Personally, my favourite sources are primarily vegetables (yes, they’re carbs!), with the odd fruit and grain. But like I mentioned before – baby steps!
Some good carbohydrates to promote include whole grain breads and pastas (not whole wheat, it’s different), oatmeal, lentils, quinoa, brown rice and vegetables. While fruits can be a healthy choice for vitamins and minerals, keep them to a minimum. They often contain lots of natural sugar and not enough fiber, which in excess can result in the same hormonal fluctuations.
Check out next Wednesday’s STAR where I’ll discuss the last two major problems in St. Lucia attributing to the widening waistlines of children.