Raising Healthy Eaters: Why Do We Care?
As the old saying goes, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.” When we’re young, we learn lots of fundamental skills and develop basic habits that last the rest of our lives. The same logic applies to food. While our taste buds change and mature as we get older, the norms and behaviors we establish around eating help shape our relationship with food over the course of our lives.
What’s the Problem?
It’s no secret that Americans are, in general, too heavy. Unfortunately, this fact isn’t limited to adults. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the government body responsible for tracking health statistics, show that nearly 13 million American children are either overweight or obese. Worse, data also show that overweight children are likely to carry that excess weight into adulthood, putting them at risk for diet-related diseases (like type II diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease). Just a few decades ago, these diseases were unheard-of among children; now they are all too common.
Of course, overweight and obesity aren’t the only reasons to care about what children are eating. More than 85% of brain development occurs by the time children reach age 5. Older children and adolescents need a balanced variety of foods to support muscle development and growth. School performance and behavior are strongly linked with adequate nutrition; learning is easier on a full stomach.
Is There a Solution?
One of the most important ways to help children develop healthfully is to teach them healthy eating habits. Most parents know, however, that this is easier said than done! Ellyn Satter is widely known as the authority on what she calls “eating competency.” Competent eaters are able to enjoy eating, eat as much as they need to support growth, and enjoy the foods their parents eat. Her model is based on the Division of Responsibility. Parents are responsible for what, when, and where a child eats. Children are responsible for how much they eat, if at all. Supporting children’s natural hunger and satiety cues, modeling healthy eating habits, and providing a wide variety of foods are the foundations of healthy eating.
Next week I’ll take a deeper look into Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, and outline how parents can get started incorporating her methods with kids of any age.