Setting children an example

Parents should set a good example regarding diet and exercise.

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The popular saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is not completely true because you can - and should – still learn something new later in life. However, there is some truth in the saying when it comes to healthy eating habits because young children learn a lot from their parents. And it is a well-known fact that adults have difficulty getting rid of bad habits that they have picked up as a child. That is the reason why scientists advise parents and those people to whom children are attached to be aware of their function as role models and set the children a good example with regard to a healthy lifestyle, both in terms of what they eat and exercising. They thus avoid their children developing bad habits in the first place.

This recommendation seems all the more urgent the greater the increase in the number of overweight children. After all, according to statistics, one in three adolescents and one in five children in Germany are already considered to be overly fat - and the number is rising. This trend is a matter of concern for doctors all the more because over the years children do not ‘outgrow’ their supposed ‘baby fat’ and fat children become overweight adults - with all the adverse consequences for their health.

Responsible parents, family members and friends should therefore be aware that children learn by imitation and thereby acquire certain patterns of behaviour. This also applies to nutrition and exercise. As a rule, towards the end of their first year little ones become more and more independent in what they eat and drink. In doing so, they adopt the habits of the environment in which they grow up, i.e. their family as well as their respective social environment and cultural circle. So this environment is also of great importance when learning about processes involving nutrition and physical activity.

It is therefore the responsibility of parents to be role models for their children in demonstrating a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent obesity and diet-related diseases. This includes doing as much exercise as possible and eating varied, balanced and wholesome meals. These in themselves are good prerequisites for a healthy weight development.

However, one should not ignore behavioural patterns where eating is concerned. Here, experts recommend that a family should sit together at the table to eat at least once a day - without stress, in a relaxed atmosphere and without any distractions in the form of the TV or other electronic devices. This way, children learn not to shovel food down their throats without thinking. After all, eating more consciously avoids running the risk of eating more than one actually needs without noticing it (see also the well_BEE_ing tip relating to ‘bad eating habits’).

When it comes to TV and the social media, it is generally true that children and young people who spend a lot of time exposed to screen media tend to take less exercise than would be good for them. In addition, they have plenty of opportunities to nibble. Sensible nutritional education also includes reducing the consumption of sweets and snacks to a reasonable level. The same applies to media consumption.

In such cases, it is a good idea for parents and guardians to use their own example to achieve the desired goal instead of imposing bans. Studies have shown that the offspring of those parents who can hardly drag their backside out of the armchair or off the couch, and even take the car to cover the shortest distances, are usually not very interested in exercise either. In such cases, the saying about teaching old dogs new tricks is true once again. Put the other way round, parents and families must also set their little ones a good example regarding nutrition and exercise.

Time and again, studies have clearly shown that there is a connection between overweight children and fat parents. Remember, in most cases children who are overweight turn not only into overweight adults, but also into adults who are lazy and do not exercise, and the same applies to their children.

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