For Children and Their Parents
Parents and guardians play a crucial role in shaping children’s early food experiences by facilitating access to certain foods, limiting access to others, and setting guidelines on what food behaviors are permissible.1-2 Moreover, parents’ food preferences, including behaviors and attitudes towards certain foods, can also influence the child’s preferences.1
Although the role of home environments in children food behaviors is still an area of active investigation, several promising approaches have been identified:
1. Availability and access: Increasing the availability of foods such as fruits and vegetables1,3-4 at home has been associated with greater intake in children. Providing children with a variety of healthy food and beverage options at home can improve children's eating behaviors.5
2. Parent modelling: Children learn by imitation. When parents model desired behaviors, such as eating whole grains6 or fruits and vegetables,3-4 it can motivate the child to engage in these behaviors too.
3. Parenting style: An authoritative feeding style has been found to be associated with healthier eating behaviors, lower intake of unhealthy foods, and lower risk of being overweight.7-8 This feeding style is characterized by parental involvement and support, accompanied by a suitable level of structure. Authoritative parents use child-centric approaches, such as reasoning with their children, having discussions with them, and giving their children some choices when it comes to meal time and snack time.9
More indulgent feeding styles, characterized by placing few restrictions on the types or amounts of foods that the child eats, have been associated with poorer eating behaviors and higher risk of being overweight.
Concern has also been raised about very authoritarian feeding styles, characterized by strict parent control over their children’s food choices, as this style may prevent the child from paying attention to internal signals of hunger and satiety.7 This style may potentially reduce children’s ability to self-regulate food intake as they grow older, leading them to be more vulnerable to negative environmental input, such as the availability of overly large portion sizes and advertisements for unhealthy foods.
4. Mealtime structure: Several aspects of mealtime structure, such as eating meals together as a family,10 eating breakfast regularly,11-12 and eating fewer meals outside the home,11,13 have been linked to improved dietary behaviors and maintaining healthy weight in children.
5. Screen time: Children and teens that spend a lot of time watching television or playing video games may be at higher risk of becoming overweight.14-15 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have no more than 2 hours per day of screen time. For children less than 2 years of age, exposure to screen media should be completely avoided.16
6. Developing good sleeping habits: Short sleep duration in children (less than 8 to less than 11 hours each night, depending on the age of the child) has been linked to weight gain.17 Not getting enough sleep may disturb the body’s ability to regulate hunger and appetite. It will also increase feelings of fatigue, which may decrease the child’s activity levels.17 The National Sleep Foundation recommends preschoolers get 11-13 hours of sleep each night and children aged 5 to 12 get 10-11 hours of sleep each night.18
Dietary and lifestyle patterns have shifted throughout the world. People are generally eating less healthy diets and living less active lifestyles. Nonetheless, there are many opportunities in one’s home to make managing weight and leading a healthy lifestyle easier and more attainable.
The following are recommendations to improve your home environment:
1. Stock up on a variety of healthy foods
. Purchase fruits and vegetables, whole grains (such as brown rice and barley), and healthy sources of protein (chicken, fish, beans, tofu, and nuts). Also purchase healthy oils for cooking (olive oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils) and avoid palm oil, coconut oil, and partially hydrogenated oils. Having healthy food easily available encourages healthy eating habits. Take a look at the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate for more information on how to create healthy, balanced meals.
2. Limit purchase of foods that are high in calories, but low in nutrition, especially sugary beverages and processed snack foods (such as chips, which are also high in sodium). People’s dietary habits are influenced by what’s available to them, so limiting unhealthy foods in the home can help improve eating habits.
3. Cook meals at home. Meals people make for themselves and their families are generally healthier than ready-made or convenience foods.19
4. Avoid skipping breakfast. Skipping breakfast may increase insulin resistance20 and diabetes risk,21 and it may be bad for your heart.22 Eating breakfast may also help prevent weight gain.23
5. Exercise at home. Physical activity has many benefits, including helping to control weight, reducing the risk of many diseases (including heart disease and some cancers), strengthening bones and muscles, improving mental health, and increasing the chances of living longer.24 Exercising at home may make exercising easier and more convenient.
There are many videos available for various forms of cardio exercise, yoga, dancing, qigong, and tai chi made for use at home, many of which are made for beginners and some of which are even available online for free.
Some people may find having exercise equipment at home useful. You can do a full body work-out with a pair of dumbbells and an exercise bench. Purchasing home equipment can cost less than a gym membership and can serve as a reminder to keep active.
For people who are not accustomed to exercising regularly, start off slowly and try to be more physically active each week. Exercising gets easier when practiced more often. It may help to exercise with other people together, such as taking a walk with your family after dinner.
6. Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is very important for health and for maintaining a healthy weight.17 Going to bed at a regular time can be helpful in maintaining good sleep habits.25
7. Limit screen time. Limiting screen time (especially TV watching time) encourages people to spend more time being physically active and less time sitting down and snacking. Food advertising on television especially has been shown to have a detrimental effect on eating habits,26 as many of the foods advertised on television are low in nutritional value.