By Sherly Shooshani Daneshgar, MS RD

Sherly ShooshaniAmerica is facing a real epidemic. The incidence of childhood obesity and Body Mass Index (BMI) has tripled over the past forty years. Childhood obesity is a primary concern of the nation and the healthcare community. It is estimated that over 30% of our nation’s youngsters are overweight and 15% are obese.

The dichotomy of this situation is that while obesity is on the rise throughout the country, in our subculture of Los Angeles, we are obsessed with thinness. How are we going to help our kids find a balance?

We all want our children to eat healthy foods in the correct proportions.
The trick is to teach our generation of children how to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies in the midst of this obesity epidemic and our obsession with appearance.

Studies continue to reflect that diets do not work in the long run. We have to start teaching our children at a young age the importance of eating healthy foods and living an active lifestyle. One of my primary goals as a health care professional is to raise a generation of non-dieters who love to eat nutritious foods, live an active lifestyle and feel in control of their bodies. The most efficient way to accomplish this is to empower our children. We need to give our youth the freedom to make decisions and feel responsible for themselves.

It is important to say “yes” more often than “no” to your child when it comes to food. Children will tune you out if you are constantly saying “no”. Fill your home and environment with healthy, delicious and nutritious food choices. You should give your youngsters several healthy choices. For instance, when you are at a restaurant, you can ask your children if they would like grilled chicken, fish tacos or a turkey sandwich. This method allows children to be responsible for their own choices, while the parent gives them only healthy items from which to select.

Another important tool to remember as a parent is to empower your children and not empower food. We need to reject the mentality of having one “treat” a day. By calling a food item a “treat” you are actually giving that food item more power or attention than it deserves. It is human nature to want what we can not have. Once a child hears that they can not have something, suddenly that food item becomes even more appealing. Instead, just call that food a “snack” and teach your family to recognize how different foods affect your body and make you feel.

Children need to learn that certain foods help them grow strong and healthy and keep them from getting sick. Other foods that are high in sugar or fat have negative effects on their bodies. Ask them how they feel after eating unhealthy foods. You can guide them by pointing out that after they eat unhealthy foods, they can feel tired, dizzy, bloated, gassy, nauseous, out of control or have stomach aches.

Although it is acceptable to limit your child’s intake of unhealthy foods, do it in a very nonchalant, matter of fact way. You can say, “We are not having that cookie right now because you already had ice cream after school. We can save the cookie for tomorrow’s snack.” If your children see you get worked up about a food, it increases their curiosity and interest in that item. It could also instigate a power struggle between you and your child.

It is important for youngsters to feel in control of themselves and their bodies. As parents we can provide them with healthy food choices and encourage them to be active. Hopefully they can learn to find a good balance as a child, so they can benefit from a healthy outlook on food and themselves for a lifetime.

Sherly Shooshani Daneshgar is a registered dietitian with an M.A. in Nutritional Science and a certified weight management counselor for children and adolescents.