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Healthy Practices at Younger Ages

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Habits Stick, Make Them Healthy from the Start

Our environment influences much of our daily lives, including self-regulation and dealing with emotions. Learning such skills at a young age is ideal as it correlates to a lower risk of childhood obesity, researchers at the University of Illinois have concluded. How? An overweight child whose parents want them to lose weight cut off certain foods, teaching that child to want more of that food because they cannot have it. Or, a child could be upset and are offered something comforting to snack on leads to an association of eating your feelings. Or, it may be regular conversations that place a negative impact on food which indirectly puts up barriers around restrictive feeding practices, straining the parent-child communication protocol.

But, it may not be just the parenting putting an increased risk of obesity on the child. It could also be genetics. This cycle often evolves from the parents who may struggle with weight management themselves. Longitudinal studies recited that after the parents realized their child may be following in their footsteps, they stepped in to intervene in what they thought would protect their child but instead cultivated a negative relationship with food. The University is examining how body mass index, a child’s genotype, in particular the COMT gene and its’ responsibility for emotion and cognition, and the way parents respond to food to learn how children will respond to stressful situations.

What the University’s researchers are encouraging is to find new strategies to help children relate to their emotions and properly learn to self-regulate. This, in turn, will reduce the restrictive feeding practices and negative associations with food over time. Of course, that is easier said than done. Offering moments of self-reflection, for not only the parent but also the child, whether it be about why they are feeling a certain way or if they are acting out, will allow communication about emotion rather than using food as an unhealthy outlet. Using physical activity as an outlet will help create a sharper mind. Get your kids to be the sous chef in the kitchen as they help make kid-approved Sunrise Pizzas for breakfast. These are fun ways to help role model to create a positive environment for your child to learn and develop their healthiest self.

Published August 1, 2017

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