Nutrition researcher: Family plays vital role in reducing childhood obesity

February 12, 2013

By: Sarah Campbell, Salisbury Post

Dr Myles Faith

KANNAPOLIS — An associate professor with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently kicked off the sixth annual Appetite for Life Academy lecture series with information about the role family plays in childhood obesity.

“It’s hard to find a topic that’s more in the public mind than childhood obesity,” Dr. Myles Faith said. “It’s an issue that everybody is trying to get a handle on.”

“It’s hard for most families and it’s hard for most children, but research suggests families can have that kind of impact,” Faith said.

Faith said his research has been based on how families can alter their behavior to help children successfully drop down to a healthy weight.

“The type of parental involvement can be very important,” he said.

One father could point out all of his child’s shortcomings and failures, while another might be concentrating on success.

“It’s so easy to see what’s going wrong, it seems like it’s almost human nature,” Faith said. “But we need to resist that temptation and see success because positive parents seem to support behavior change.”

Faith said the first step in changing any type of behavior is self monitoring.

“It’s important that we have some consensus about what we’re going to monitor and we get the whole family behind it,” he said.

It’s key to pick two or three very specific behaviors and keep track of each one.

Examples of behaviors to watch are the amount of sugary beverages consumed, how much water one drinks, how many total calories are logged, the amount of time spent watching television and the number of pedometer steps each day.

Tracking behaviors makes both children and families accountable, Faith said.

“The power of awareness is strong,” he said. “Unless we’re writing it down and keeping a log, we don’t know how often it’s happening.”

Faith said it’s important for parents and siblings not to pass judgement.

“At first, we’re not trying to change the behavior, just monitor it,” he said. “The more self-monitoring the better the weight loss.

“If we don’t know where we’re starting it’s hard to know how much to go up or down.”

Goal setting comes next, Faith said. That can include increasing behaviors such as drinking water and eating fruits and vegetables, or decreasing the amount of screen time and snacking.

“In order to foster success goals should be determined by the family and child together and ideally be short-term, preferably daily,” he said. “That allows us to measure and see success.

“Think about how good it felt when you had mastery in your own facets of life.”

Faith said parents should stay positive.

“We want to praise children if they do well and if goals were not met, we want to think about ways to be more successful,” he said. “Give honest feedback, talk about struggles, but do so in a way that’s positive and moving in the right direction to move forward.”

Faith suggested using pedometers to track steps.

“It’s a really great way to get feedback and set goals,” he said. “In counselling we might say be more active, but what exactly does that mean?”

Reducing the amount of television watched can have a dramatic impact, Faith said. It’s the health behavior most strongly linked to better childhood obesity prevention and treatment.

“It’s probably not that kids are going out and being more active because we reduce screen time, that don’t happen so much,” he said. “Research shows less eating occurs … it took away some of the mindless snacking.”

Faith suggested parents and children use the traffic light system to track eating.

Red foods such as soda, pancakes, chips, ice cream, fried foods, salad dressing and baked beans provide few nutrients and should not be eaten daily.

Yellow foods like skim milk, pizza, grilled meat, cereal, cheese, pretzels and rice cakes are rich in nutrients for the number of calories they provide and most are low in fat. Those can be consumed in limited portions.

Green foods should be eaten every day. They are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber as well as being very low in fat.

Examples include water, apparatus, beats, broccoli, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peppers, radishes, spinach, squash and tomatoes.

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