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Navigating 'Island' Parenting: Our children's health and nutrition
Published on March 31, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version


By Mutryce A Williams

"The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake. This isn't the kind of problem that can be solved overnight, but with everyone working together, it can be solved. So, let's move." First Lady Michelle Obama -- Let's Move launch announcement, 2/9/2010

“Through Let’s Move, we plan to keep attacking this problem from every angle, because we know there is no one magic bullet. So we plan to keep building healthier schools. We plan to keep bringing fresh food into our communities. We plan to keep urging businesses to provide healthy products and market them responsibly to our kids. But we also need to keep innovating. We need to keep pushing the envelope. We need to find new ideas from every sector to help families make manageable, affordable changes that can transform our children’s health." First Lady Michelle Obama -- Partnership for a Healthier America’s Building a Healthier Future Summit, 3/14/14

Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue focuses on “Our Children’s Health and Nutrition.” The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.

First Lady Michelle Obama Hit the Bull’s Eye!

The First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama has been heavily criticized over the years for the cause that she has chosen to focus on: childhood obesity. As a Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate, it was expected that she would champion what may be considered “solid” or “noteworthy” causes. Gender equality, women’s rights, diversity, education, literacy, and healthcare were some of the areas that were cited.

Democrats hoped that this would be the second coming of the formidable Former First Lady Hilary Clinton, and that First Lady Michelle Obama would have been at the forefront of the Affordable Care Act which is touted to be the legacy or hallmark of her husband’s presidency. It has been said that a woman of her mettle and acumen could have been a real difference in this debate.

Much has been said and was anticipated from her recent trip to China, which was meant to be a cultural exchange. The public waited with bated breath, as the expectation was that the First Lady would finally forcefully show her brawn and promote something worth promoting, human rights and democracy. She did not. The African American community hoped that she would do more to champion their causes. To everyone’s disappointment, First Lady Obama chose to promote a cause which has been cited as not being worthy of her position of influence, intellect, or experience.

One friend said that the First Lady’s legacy will be that of Jackie Kennedy, a fashion icon, as she could not possibly fathom what immediate or tangible results could be had from the “Let’s Move” campaign”.

She said, “When you think healthcare or health insurance, former First Lady Hilary Clinton comes to mind. This is solid. When you think literacy former First Lady Laura Bush comes to mind. This is solid. When you think of The Dare Campaign -- Just Say No to Drugs, the former First Lady Nancy Reagan comes to mind. This is solid. When you think First Lady Michelle Obama, skits on the Tonight Show or her doing the “Dougie” comes to mind, as I don’t think that the “Let’s Move” campaign resonates. It doesn’t grasp my interest. It is such a waste, I tell you, such a waste.”

I did not concur with my friend in saying that the initiative was a waste; however, I can’t say that the initiative resonated with me, even as a parent and this could be for several reasons.

After reading a press release issued by the St Kitts and Nevis Information Services (SKNIS) captioned “Farm to fork project inspires healthy eating” wherein Mr Andrew Skerritt, the permanent secretary in the ministry of health, informed that “in St. Kitts and Nevis, surveys produced by the ministry of health have shown that there is a 70 percent obesity rate among adults, at least 35 to 40 percent have elevated blood pressure while almost 70 percent of adults are living with hypertension,” I can tell you that it did resonate.

As a matter of fact I am more inclined to say that First Lady Michelle Obama hit the proverbial bull’s eye. Her cause may, in fact, be the most noteworthy of all. It can be said she isn’t putting the “cart before the horse.” First Lady Obama’s concern isn’t one that seeks tangible results for the next news report or polling but rather one of safeguarding the health and welfare of the next generation.

We are often told that “one’s health is one’s wealth;” no other cause is more important than the health of the world’s children and most importantly our children. If we want our children to grow into healthy adults, making significant improvements in their diet and physical fitness is critical.

Permanent secretary in the ministry of health of St Kitts and Nevis Andrew Skerritt is also cited as saying that a nutritious diet from youth reduces the risk of contracting a non communicable disease (NCD) as one ages. He said, “Quite often, it’s very difficult to change people’s lifestyles when they are adults.”

Therefore early intervention is important because lifestyle changes have to begin with the youth. It is never too late to begin making healthy lifestyle changes, your health and most importantly your children’s health depends on it. You can begin by switching from white bread to whole wheat or grain bread. Do the same with rice. You can replace cola with water. As parents, we try to give our children the very best of everything. Let us not make health the exception.

Overcoming the challenges which prevents a healthy lifestyle in children

It is no secret that parents lead extremely busy lives. Some parents view getting through the day a success, as they are in survival mode just trying to keep their head above water. Preparing healthy, nutritious meals and ensuring that children get adequate exercise is something that many parents consider a priority however it constantly evades them. There is the rush to get children off to school, and in an effort to get them there early many forgo breakfast which is the most important meal of the day. Because parents are time poor, preparing foods that are convenient rather than healthy or nutritious may be their best option as it saves time. Here are some tips that can assist in overcoming the challenges which prevents a healthy lifestyle in children.

• Promote healthy eating in your home. Children are more likely to develop healthy eating behaviours when they are given a choice of healthy foods at home. Include only healthy foods on your shopping list and prepare nutritional meals and snacks for the whole family. Keep fewer unhealthy foods such as sweet carbonated drinks, chips, candy, chocolate and snack bars in the house. If you choose to purchase them, ensure that they are inaccessible or out of sight.

• Plan your meals and prepare meals ahead of time. This would prevent the last minute rush or panic about what to feed your children. Doing a weekly menu and tailoring your grocery shopping to this may also prove effective.

• Instill in your children the importance of carrying their healthy eating habits with them even when they are not at home or when you are absent. For example it may be tempting to eat a few slices of pizza, drink cola, or eat several bags of chips at a friend’s house, however the importance of healthy eating habits must be reinforced so that when temptation comes the child can say no, because he or she knows that these foods are not good for his or her health. A parent should not hesitate to let the child’s caregiver, aunt, uncle or the grandparent know what foods are acceptable and which are not, so that there is consistency throughout. There may also be the temptation to use his or her allowance money to purchase candy or foods that don’t fall into the basic food’s category; this is where education and reinforcement comes in.

• As parents it is imperative for us to educate ourselves on the basic foods. They are fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, lean meats and fish, and low-fat dairy foods. Family meals should be prepared from this list. Learning how to read nutrition labels and calorie content is important. Learning the nutritional requirement for your child’s developmental stage/age can prove quite useful as well.

Raising Healthy Children - Additional Health Tips

• Spend an hour a day moving
• Stock up on fruits and vegetables
• Drink lots of water
• Eliminate/limit fried and junk food
• Praise children when they eat healthy foods
• Limit screen time – television, computer and other technological devices with viewing capabilities
• Eat a healthy breakfast everyday and establish a healthy eating routine
• Eat at home
• Be aware of serving sizes
• Cut out beverages sweetened with sugar
• Get a good night’s sleep
• Encourage your child to value his or her body for what it can do rather than how it looks
• Provide your children especially older children with the opportunity to get involved in sports
• Encourage your child to stay involved in sports.
• Make exercise or sports a family affair.

The Power of Modeling

"We as parents are our children's first and best role models, and this is particularly true when it comes to their health. ...We can't lie around on the couch eating French fries and candy bars and expect our kids to eat carrots and run around the block." – Building a Healthier Future Summit, 3/8/13 Michelle Obama

“Be a role model. Set a good example for children to follow by demonstrating healthy eating behaviours and an active lifestyle. Be mindful of modeling appropriate behaviors, such as enjoying a variety of foods, being willing to taste new foods, and enjoying physical activity. Do not eat or drink anything in front of the children they are not allowed to have, such as soda, candy, or coffee.” -- Department of Health New York

Health Facts and Quotes

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education suggests that children should have no less than 60 minutes of structured physical activity per day, and also 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity per day in order to be physically fit.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an estimated 43 million preschool children worldwide were overweight or obese in 2010. This is an increase of 60 percent since 1990.

“Today, more than 95% of all chronic disease is caused by food choice, toxic food ingredients, nutritional deficiencies and lack of physical exercise.” Mike Adams

“It’s bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the pediatrician.” Meryl Streep

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” John F. Kennedy

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

“Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy” Author Unknown

“Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. There are a great many food-like items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food... stay away from these” Michael Pollan

Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 4-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Nicholas. She not only values the many facets of West Indian parenting but also thinks that there is vast room for improvement. A former educator and a child/youth advocate, Mutryce firmly believes that children should not only be seen but heard.. She may be contacted at
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