Walking the Talk

“How many of you love your children?”

I was speaking to a group of parents at a middle school about raising healthier kids, and the response to my question was predictable. Every parent in the room raised his or her hand.

“Then why are you killing them?” I asked.

The expressions on their faces changed in a heartbeat. With two short questions, I had gotten their attention—and sparked a meaningful (although difficult) conversation about the important role we each have in influencing the habits and behavior of the children we love.

When we act in ways that make us “healthy role models” for our kids—like when we’re physically active or when we prepare and eat healthy foods—we benefit.  And when our kids follow our example, so do they. In fact, recent research shows that children who adopt healthy eating habits early in life can avoid a lifetime of health issues.

A report in Gerontology magazine indicates that adults who were obese as children—even if their adult weight is now under control—may be at higher risk for cardiac events and early death. “Kids’ maturing bodies may be especially vulnerable to the detrimental health effects of obesity,” says study investigator Kristen Nadeau, M.D., of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. “It may be that childhood obesity changes the way the whole metabolism is working—and changes it during a critical developmental time frame.”

Uh oh!  And to add even greater urgency, the researchers noted that childhood obesity is a predictor of adult obesity and obesity-related disorders. They cited a Princeton study which found that 63 percent of participants defined as being “at risk of overweight” as children were obese 25 years later. Childhood obesity is linked to increased incidence of metabolic syndrome, cancer, coronary disease and liver disease.

These are sobering statistics. But parents—and all those who care about our kids—possess the power to do something about it. We can change those statistics, one child at a time, through the choices we make.

I’ve come to believe that the best gift we can give the children in our lives is a good example for them to follow. I know my daughter, Ali, pays much more attention to what I do than to what I tell her to do. That’s sometimes a real pain, especially when I tell her to do something and she basically holds up a mirror, showing me that I need to practice what I preach.

If a parent smokes or is overweight, for example, it’s unlikely he or she will be taken seriously when warning their children about the dangers of smoking or obesity. If we urge our kids to snack on an apple but they routinely see us devouring a bag of potato chips, how likely is it that they’ll take our advice?

So, if we want to make a positive difference in the lives of our kids—and who doesn’t?—it’s essential that we walk the walk. When we do, our children benefit—and so do we!