Step Up To The Plate: 5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children Prevent Diabetes

No one said being a parent was easy. From the first diaper to the day you drop your child off at college, the parenting game is full of critical moments. Some days, you score; others, you strike out. When it comes to your child’s health, every moment matters.

Every meal is an opportunity to
give your child the nutrition he or she needs and a chance to instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime—healthy habits that will win big against diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Here are five steps parents can take right now to step up to the plate and reverse the trend by helping their children live healthier lives.

LEARN MORE ABOUT DIABETES.
For parents, understanding diabetes is an important first step. Diabetes involves high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce or use insulin, a hormone that regulates glucose in the blood.

Previously known as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes affects 5 percent of individuals with diabetes. In those who have type 1, the body doesn’t produce insulin. The most common form of the disease is type 2. The body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the cells
ignore it. This can lead to high blood glucose levels, which, left unchecked, can cause serious complications such as nerve disease, kidney disease, heart problems and more.

The primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes is being overweight. Other risk factors include inactivity and a family history of the disease. Plus, type 2 diabetes is more common in girls than in boys and in children of certain races, particularly African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Symptoms include frequent urination, unusual thirst or extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, fatigue, frequent infections and blurred vision. If you notice these symptoms or are concerned about your child’s weight, talk to your child’s pediatrician about testing for diabetes. But it’s important for parents to also know that a child can have diabetes without showing symptoms.

MODEL HEALTHY BEHAVIORS.
One of the best ways to encourage your children to do this is through your own healthy behaviors. Parents are the role models. You hold the purse strings, and you buy the food in the house. As parents, it may not be the best example to eat fried chicken and tell the kids to eat carrots.
 
You’re constantly modeling. Raising kids with healthy eating habits is a tough, endless job.
It requires daily vigilance.

CREATE A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT. 
"When children are at home, they can only eat what’s in the house,” says Lois Vergis, registered dietitian at Gwinnett Medical Center’s Diabetes & Nutrition Education Center.
"If the pantry or fridge is stocked with whole milk instead of skim or chips instead of apples, kids don’t have much choice when they get the munchies."

The modern world makes it very easy to out-eat exercise and nearly impossible to out-exercise overeating,” Vergis notes. “The thing for parents is to focus on the energy-in side of the equation.”

Below is an example:
If a child goes on a moderately fast bike ride for an hour, he will burn about 300 calories. If he had been sitting at home for that hour, he would have burned 60. The net loss is 240 calories. But an order of french fries has 230 calories. The point is not to rely on exercise to counter everything your child eats.

By focusing on what kids are eating—from at-home meals to making healthy lunches—parents can make a difference. When you’re ready to create a healthy home environment,
get a big plastic bag and throw away anything that has more than 10 ingredients in it, Vergis says. Then, replace those foods with whole, real foods like lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Have plenty of fruits and veggies on hand and make them easy for kids to reach, and if it helps kids, cut the fruits and veggies into bite-size pieces. Have water and low-fat milk available, and ditch sodas, sports drinks and high-calorie, sugary juices.
EAT TOGETHER, BE ACTIVE TOGETHER.
Eating family meals at home goes beyond the food. It’s also about conversation and talking about your day. Plus, she says, it’s beneficial to have your kids help with preparing the meal. It’s an opportunity for you to teach, and they’re more likely to enjoy something they had a hand in.

And don’t assume kids just won’t eat certain foods. We think all kids eat is pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers. Don’t narrow your kids’ palates. Widen them. Introduce them to more foods. You might be surprised by what they like.

In addition to eating together find ways to be active together—exercising as a family, rather than watching TV together. It can be bowling, swimming at the community pool, taking a walk, riding bikes—whatever gets the family moving.
 

MAKE A LONG TERM COMMITMENT.
There’s a reason Vergis doesn’t like the word “diet.” She wants people to think beyond
the short term. “This is about healthy eating, healthy habits,” she says. “And you’ve got to start early, early, early.” Then, make it a lifelong commitment. Vergis adds that once children become teenagers, they are likely to be set in their patterns, so instilling healthy habits early on and continuing to reinforce those patterns are essential.

“Diabetes is not a disease you get overnight,” Vergis says. “We make choices day in and day out over time.”

Nobody said being a parent was easy. It’s not. But it’s an important role, and by stepping up to the plate and taking action, parents have the power to prevent obesity and reverse the trend of diabetes in children.

Are You at Risk for Diabetes?
Modeling healthy behaviors is essential, so start with your own health. To learn more about managing and preventing diabetes, visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/diabetes or call
678-312-6040.

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