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Nag Me Not

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Nag Me Not

In 2000 the <i>Canadian Medical Association Journal</i> reported that children are increasingly choosing to watch TV, surf the Internet, and play video games instead of staying active with sports and outdoor play. Today the average Canadian child sits in front of a screen three to five hours a day.

In 2000 the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that children are increasingly choosing to watch TV, surf the Internet, and play video games instead of staying active with sports and outdoor play. Today the average Canadian child sits in front of a screen three to five hours a day.

The problem is that while watching TV and surfing the Internet, kids are inundated with commercials and banner ads promoting high-calorie convenience and fast foods. Thin and happy children are portrayed in ads eating platefuls of fattening foods, but when normal viewers eat the same way, they take in much more energy than their inactive bodies can burn off.

As a result levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease risk factors in children are higher than ever before. According to the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, which followed children from 1994 to 1998, the prevalence of obesity in children tripled over that period, from 5 percent to 16.6 percent of boys and from 5 percent to 14.6 percent of girls. (Children who weigh 20 percent more than the norm for their age and height are considered obese.) In 1998 one-third of Canadian children aged 2 to 11 were considered overweight.

Irresistible Marketing

It’s easy to understand why. Our children’s lives are awash in food marketing. “Along with toy ads, food ads account for most of the marketing that targets kids,” says Dr. Susan Linn in Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood (New Press, 2004). Linn, a Harvard Medical School expert and cofounder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (commercialfreechildhood.org), recently videotaped six hours of programming on a children’s network one Sunday afternoon. Reviewing the tapes, she counted 40 food commercials, or about one every nine minutes. Almost all of these were for foods high in calories, fat, salt, and/or sugar.

“These advertisements make sugary and high-fat foods irresistible to children,” says Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation (Viking, 2004). “[They] undermine parents’ attempts to control their children’s diets.”

Hard to Say No

Many of the foods that are marketed to children are foods parents would never eat themselves, let alone feed to their children. But many parents find it hard to uphold their personal health values in the face of corporate advertising. Convenience food manufacturers have enlisted the best psychologists and market researchers available to sell to kids. That’s because kids aged 12 and under offer easy access to the $500 billion market their parents represented in 2000, as determined by marketing expert James McNeal. Parents find themselves in a daily battle to repel market forces and teach their kids what’s healthy and what’s not.

“The industry spin is that it’s up to parents to protect children from marketing. But how can one family combat a $12 billion industry?” asks Linn.

Some Successful Strategies

If you are concerned about how many convenience and fast foods your children are nagging you to buy for them, it’s time to make a change. Many teenagers and pre-teens are already sufficiently aware that they can choose not to eat these foods. Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me (2004) helped educate older kids about the health consequences of convenience and fast foods. Younger children also need help to understand why you don’t want them to eat these high-fat, empty calorie foods.

One good strategy is to tell them that obesity is not a cosmetic issue. It’s associated with heart disease, stroke, and other weight-related health problems. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Among overweight children between 5 and 10 years of age, 60 percent already have at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor, such as elevated blood lipids, blood pressure, or insulin levels that can lead to atherosclerosis, hypertension, and diabetes in adulthood.”Here are a few other strategies to help you work against corporate marketers and eliminate the “nag factor.”

Avoid Watching TV

If it’s TV ads that encourage kids to eat unhealthy foods, one of the best strategies to encourage healthy eating is to discourage TV viewing. When we watch TV, our metabolism slows to a level lower than when we are asleep, reported the journal Pediatrics in 1993. Obese children tend to have a large difference between calories burned while at rest and calories burned while watching TV (262 kilocalories per day (kcal/d) versus 167 kcal/d, respectively).

TV can be useful: It puts younger kids in a holding pattern when parents really need a break. Next time you need a break, choose better activities to occupy your kids like supplying them with art materials–enormous sheets of paper and brightly coloured felt pens. Keep your children nearby and hang out together, even when you’re busy, suggests the non-profit organization LimiTV (limitv.org).

A “No Snacks in the TV room” Rule

If you set a rule that no snacks are to be consumed while watching TV, you’ll establish healthy eating patterns and save the TV room furniture at the same time. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University conducted a study to examine whether TV viewing provides a context for patterns of snacking that foster weight problems in young girls. In both overweight and non-overweight families, girls who watched more TV consumed more snacks in front of the TV. In families where neither parent was overweight, TV viewing was the only significant predictor of girls’ increase in Body Mass Index (BMI). The results of this study show that excessive TV viewing and snacking patterns are risk factors for the development of excess weight in children.

No Drinks in the TV Room Either

Make sure your child understands the no snacks rule includes no drinks in the TV room. Researchers in the Department of Health Promotion and Education at Loma Linda University in California asked 186 boys and 199 girls from three schools about associations between their TV viewing and soft drink consumption. They also measured their BMI to determine obesity among these 11- to 13-year-old schoolchildren. Significant associations were found between BMI and hours of TV watched per evening and daily soft drink consumption. Those watching less than two hours of TV per night had a lower BMI than those watching two or more hours per night. Those consuming less than three soft drinks per day had a lower BMI than those consuming three or more soft drinks per day.

Eat at Home More Often

“Frequent consumption of foods away from home has been associated with a diet high in fat and calories,” reported the CDC in 1999. “Since portion sizes served at restaurants have increased and people are encouraged to purchase larger meals, more calories are likely to be consumed when eating at fast food and other restaurants than when eating at home.”

If your children beg for the children’s meal at the local fast-food restaurant because it offers a toy they’ve seen on TV, try this strategy: Offer to take them to the local toy store to buy a toy they really want, not one that will break as quickly as the fast-food giveaways. While your children play with the new toy at home, prepare a meal they enjoy. You all win with this solution: Your children get a new toy and you maintain your food values.

To get a good sense of how much kids should be eating everyday, check out the daily eating plan that accompanies this article.

Increase Activity

You should encourage your kids to be active for at least 30 minutes every day—playing tag, walking to school, chasing the dog, skipping rope. But don’t expect your kids to feel comfortable running hard for 30 minutes the first day. A slow, easy start at increasing activity levels will help you and your kids gradually add movement into your routine each day.

Encourage them to begin with 10 minutes of tag at recess the first week and then make it 20 minutes the next week. Or, if you drive your kids to school, park the car near the school and walk them the rest of the way. Park three blocks away the first week and six blocks the next. Eventually you’ll walk all the way to school, if that’s possible, or together you’ll walk a distance that equals a 30-minute walk each day.

Here are some other ideas for fun activities from the TV Turnoff Network (tvturnoff.org): go bicycling, play soccer, jump rope, fly a kite, dance, start a garden, wash the dog, swim laps, clean your room, do gymnastics, throw a Frisbee, walk around the block, learn to rollerblade, build a fort.

No Means No

Dr. Joey Shulman, author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003) suggests that you get your children to pay attention to how they feel after eating convenience and fast foods. “Do they want to have a nap after eating a plate of white spaghetti pasta? Do they get a runny nose after eating ice cream? Help them to communicate how the food they are eating makes them feel.” Usually fast foods don’t make anybody feel good.

What’s the most important strategy, though? Never give in to the nag factor. If you don’t want your child to eat convenience food or visit fast-food restaurants, hold your ground and make your children understand that No means No.

Dr. Shulman’s Fast-Food Srategies

Dr. Shulman believes that fast foods should be eliminated completely from children’s diets. However, the reality is that sometimes they’re unavoidable. If you can’t resist the nag factor another minute, here are some strategies to help you at the fast-food counter:

  • Get out of your car and walk to the store instead of using the drive-through. Eat in the restaurant, not in your car.
  • Order a medium or small burger, not large or extra-large, and eat slowly until you feel satisfied.
  • Order your pizza or burger with less cheese. If it still has too much cheese, scoop some off yourself.
  • Drink bottled water instead of pop or juice.
  • Avoid deep-fried foods such as French fries, onion rings, and doughnuts.
  • Choose a salad, yogourt and fruit, or a grilled chicken burger. A grilled chicken burger at one of the largest fast-food chains contains 20 percent of our daily fat allowance; their big burger with cheese contains more than 50 percent of our daily fat allowance. Both still have about 1,000 mg sodium, though–almost half of our daily recommended sodium allowance.

Source: Adapted from Winning the Food Fight by Joey Shulman. (Wiley, 2003).

A Better Kids’ Menu

This five-day menu offers healthy food choices for children 8 to 16 who are moderately active. Each day children should eat:

  • 5 or 6 servings of grains (1 serving = 1 slice bread, 3/4 cup cereal, 1/2 cup rice or whole grain)
  • 3 servings of fruit (1 serving = 1 medium-size fruit or 1/2 cup juice)
  • 3 or 4 servings of vegetables (1 serving = 1 cup vegetables)
  • 3 servings of milk or alternatives for children up to 9 years of age and 4 servings for children 10 to 16 years (1 serving = 1 cup milk, 2 oz cheese, 3/4 cup yogourt)
  • 2 servings of meat or alternatives (1 serving = 1 egg, 2 oz meat, chicken, or fish, 2 Tbsp peanut butter)
  • 2 or 3 servings of fats and oils (1 serving = 2 tsp oil or butter).

Day 1

Breakfast:
1 slice multigrain toast with 1 Tbsp natural peanut butter
1 apple
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute

Lunch:
Egg salad sandwich made with 1 boiled egg, 1 Tbsp low-fat mayo, and 2 slices of whole wheat bread
1/2 cup baby carrots
1/2 cup grapes
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute

Snack:
1/3 cup low-fat granola
3/4 cup low-fat yogourt

Dinner:
1/2 cup brown rice
3 oz chicken breast, cooked in 1 tsp olive oil
1 cup mixed vegetables

Snack:
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute
1 plum

Day 2

Breakfast:
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup berries
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute

Lunch:
Chicken wrap made with 1 whole wheat tortilla, 3 oz cooked chicken, 1 Tbsp low-fat mayon naise, and 1 cup lettuce and tomato
1 apple
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute

Snack:
1/2 cup raw veggies
2 oz low-fat dip

Dinner:
Pork stir-fry made with 1 cup noodles, 3 oz pork, 1/2 cup mixed vegetables, and 1/2 cup bok choy, cooked in 1 tsp olive oil

Snack:
3/4 cup low-fat yogourt
1 peach

Day 3

Breakfast:
1/3 cup low-fat granola with 1 Tbsp slivered almonds
1/2 cup strawberries
3/4 cup low-fat vanilla yogourt

Lunch:
1 small bran muffin with 1 oz low-fat mozzarella cheese
2 oz low-fat dip
1/2 cup raw vegetables
1 peach
1/2 cup cottage cheese

Snack:
1/2 whole wheat pita
2 Tbsp hummus
1 plum

Dinner:
1/2 cup brown rice
4 oz salmon
2 cups mixed greens with 1 Tbsp slivered almonds
2 Tbsp low-fat dressing

Snack:
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute
1/2 cup bran cereal with raisins

Day 4

Breakfast:
1 whole wheat English muffin
1 egg
1 tsp butter
1 orange
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute

Lunch:
Salmon sandwich made with 2 oz canned salmon, 1 Tbsp low-fat mayo, and 2 slices whole wheat bread
1 cup salad
1 peach
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute

Snack:
1/2 cup raw veggies
2 oz low-fat dip

Dinner:
Turkey fajitas made with 1 whole wheat tortilla, 3 oz turkey, and 1 cup bell pepper, cooked in 1 tsp olive oil, served with salsa, lettuce, and tomato, and 1 oz low-fat mozzarella cheese

Snack:
1 oz low-fat cheese
1 nectarine

Day 5

Breakfast:
3/4 cup bran cereal with raisins
1/2 banana
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute

Lunch:
Chicken Caesar salad made with 3 oz chicken breast, 2 Tbsp low-fat dressing, 1 1/2 cups romaine lettuce, and 1/3 cup croutons
1/2 cup grapes
3/4 cup low-fat yogourt

Snack:
1 low-fat granola bar
1/2 banana

Dinner:
Homemade pizza made with 1 whole wheat tortilla, vege tarian pepperoni, tomato sauce, onion, 1/2 cup red and green peppers, and 1 oz low-fat mozzarella cheese

Snack:
1 cup 2% milk or milk substitute
1/2 cup raw vegetables with 2 Tbsp low-fat dip

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