Healthy habits begin at home. So it is with avoiding obesity: good lifestyle habits instilled in childhood will stay with someone. Childhood obesity, which affects 20 percent of kids in the United States, is a harbinger of health problems later in life; moreover, conditions such as type 2 diabetes and even heart problems, that used to strike adults almost exclusively, are increasingly affecting young people.
Weight problems run in families, but while people can have a genetic predisposition to being overweight or obese, another important factor is the lifestyle the whole household lives. Four out of five obese children with an obese parent will stay obese into adulthood, because in addition to an inherited tendency, they continue the habits developed at home as they grow. That means that preventing obesity has to be a family project—and it will benefit the adults as well.
Simply eating at home is an important step. By sitting down at the dinner table for family dinner most nights, you control portion sizes and ingredients, save money, and as a bonus, there is research indicating family dinner results in children who do better in school, are better behaved, and are more successful in life. You can still go out occasionally, but if dinner out isn’t an everyday occurrence, think how much less in the way of effort and expense it requires to make it a special occasion.
Portion control is an important aspect of the strategy. We eat with our eyes first, and the less we think we’ve eaten, the more it takes to feel satisfied. Studies show that simply eating off smaller plates can make us feel that we’ve eaten more, and are fuller. Keep the serving tray off the table—it’s more tempting to go for seconds without really thinking about it if the food is right there. Herbs and spices are also helpful in sating hunger, adding flavor without adding calories.
It’s not just about food. Exercise is also an important step in fighting obesity. It’s also another opportunity to bring the family closer together. Walking, jogging, playing sports, or even dancing as a family can be a great way to incorporate moving into your family life while maintaining a healthy weight. It doesn’t have to be competitive, either. Just make family fun night an active night rather than just sitting around.