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JBSA News
NEWS | Sept. 16, 2014

Developing healthy eating habits should begin early in life

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Nutrition is such a vital component of overall well-being that Air Force health and wellness centers dedicate courses to it as part of the service's "Fit to Fight" fitness program.

            However, the foundation for healthy eating should begin even earlier in life - in childhood.

            "Providing frequent nutrition education to early learners is key to developing lifelong healthy eating habits," Shae Peters, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Health and Wellness Center Health Promotions Program coordinator, said. "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nutrition education strategies are most likely to promote lifelong habits for good health if they help children learn the skills needed for healthy eating behaviors, provide opportunities to practice these behaviors and make nutrition education relevant and fun."

            Peters said eating well enhances students' ability to achieve their full academic and physical potential, and they learn how to eat well through the example of their role models.

            "For young children, healthy eating is learned through actively watching and doing," she said. "By providing positive food experiences to preschool-age children, it helps them develop an awareness of good nutrition."

            Whether for adults or children, a healthy diet can be achieved by following the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" jointly issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Peters said.

            The latest nutrition guide, MyPlate, recommends that fruits and vegetables make up half of a meal while whole grains and proteins make up the other half, with low-fat or fat-free dairy on the side. A healthy diet is also low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, according to the guidelines.

            "MyPlate provides recommendations based on the government's 2010 dietary guidelines that can help you figure out how much food kids and adults should have based on age, gender, and activity level," Peters said. "Once you know that, you can decide how much of those heaping restaurant portions your family should actually eat. You can go to www.choosemyplate.gov for more information."

             Portion sizes are as much a concern for children as they are for adults, Peters said. They began to increase in the 1980s and have been skyrocketing ever since.

            "As portions have gone up, so have the calories consumed," she said. "Don't serve kids large portions or expect them to clean their plates. Not only do kids need less food than adults, but studies show that preschoolers do a better job controlling portion size when they're allowed to serve themselves. As kids grow, their appetites will vary depending on a number of factors. As their appetites change, keep serving right-sized portions and encourage them to slow down to enjoy their food."

            A common problem for parents is persuading their children to eat vegetables. Offering them a variety of vegetables is helpful, Peters said.

            "According to a study of 250 preschoolers led by researchers at the University of Leeds, the secret to getting kids to eat vegetables is offering a wide variety - and simply serving them more often," she said. "The study also revealed 2- and 3-year-olds were harder to please than younger kids, and kids tended to enjoy vegetables their mothers frequently ate. Favorites included carrots, broccoli, peas, corn and cucumbers.     

            "Another technique you can try is to involve them in shopping," Peters added. "Visit a farmers' market or grocery store with your child when it's not very busy. Let them see and feel different vegetables."

            Parents should also encourage their children to stay active since a healthy lifestyle requires exercise as well as good eating habits, the two components that are crucial to preventing childhood obesity, Peters said.

"Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily," she said. "Remember that children imitate adults. Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you."