Supporting a Healthy Body Supports a Healthy Mouth

girl with tabletHow much time do you spend sitting each day? Probably more than you’d care to. Many of us spend the vast majority of our time every day seated – usually in front of a screen of some kind.

Unfortunately, all this sitting is a major contributor to poor health. And it’s not just adults who have gone sedentary. Kids are in on the trend, too, with screen time up and physical activity is down. As the authors of a recent paper in Obesity Facts noted, surveys have shown that 6- to 11-year olds are inactive for roughly 6.4 hours a day. Among teens, that jumps to nearly 8 hours a day.

Physical activity, on the other hand, is declining. Of boys between 3 and 10 years of age, 11.7% participate in sports less than once or twice a week, and 11.7% do not engage in any sports at all, with even lower levels of physical inactivity in girls of the same age

Suffice it to say, those numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Ideally, screen time should be balanced with more opportunities for kids to keep moving. Their developing bodies and minds need physical activity. Too much screen time, on the other hand, can make inactivity seem the norm. It encourages sedentary behavior.

So what can we do to reduce screen time? A few ideas:

  • Many kids are sent to watch TV or play on a tablet while the adults prepare dinner. Try to involve the kids by having them help cook or set the table.

  • Eat dinner together at the table, away from the TV. It’s a great opportunity for talking with each other about how your day went and what you did and saw, as well as making plans for the following day or week.

  • Incorporate a family activity after dinner such as a neighborhood walk or light yoga. Yoga Calm is one of several excellent programs of yoga for kids. Or play a game together rather than watching a TV show or movie. Many simple card and board games can be played at practically any age.

  • Put some coloring or activity books out on the table or floor to occupy the kids during busy moments rather than sitting them in front of the TV or putting a tablet in their hands.

The American Academy of Pediatricians provides guidelines for screen time, harnessing the good digital media can do while keeping screens from completely dominating your child’s waking hours. Again, balance is key.

For sedentary time may also contribute to chronic inflammation – and where there’s chronic inflammation, there’s usually gum disease. In fact, inflammation is one of the things that links gum disease to a whole host of systemic health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and some cancers.

Simply put, supporting a health body supports a healthy mouth.

Image by Nick Olejniczak

Helping Kids Learn to Eat Healthy in a Food Environment That’s Anything But

No matter where you go or what you do – turn on the TV, log into email, wait for a movie to start, step inside just about any kind of a store – you’re apt to be bombarded with marketing for unhealthy food products.

One of the primary targets? Our kids.

kids watching screenAs we noted last week, kids are highly influenced to eat foods they see marketed on TV, one of many factors contributing to childhood obesity. Now, new research in Pediatrics shows how that trend goes for big screen offerings, as well.

For the study, 31 G- and PG-rated films from 2012 to 2015 were evaluated for their “obesity-promoting content and weight-stigmatizing messages.” The raters documented how frequently the content included eating or negative messages around weight.

Let’s just say the answer was “often.”

All 31 movies included obesity-promoting content; most common were unhealthy foods (87% of movies, 42% of segments), exaggerated portion sizes (71%, 29%), screen use (68%, 38%), and sugar-sweetened beverages (61%, 24%). Weight-based stigma, such as a verbal insult about body size or weight, was observed in 84% of movies and 30% of segments.

So on the one hand, you have depictions that suggest behaviors that contribute to weight gain, and on the other, weight gain is scorned. Talk about mixed signals!

Other research suggests that kids’ eating behavior may be directly affected by depictions in film. One recent study of product placement in films found that

branding and obesogenic messaging in children’s movies influenced some choices that children made about snack foods immediately following viewing, especially food with greatest exposure time in the film.

While such studies acknowledge that there’s more to learn about the long-term effects of this psychological game, it’s hard to see much good come of this, just reinforcement of the unhealthy eating patterns so predominant in our culture.

That’s why it’s all the more crucial that we provide more healthful models for our kiddos to follow. For just as kids may mimic what they see in the media, so they may just as well follow the lead of their parents and caregivers.

One of the main reasons parents turn to drive-thru, carryout, or frozen meals is simple convenience. We’re all busy. Our kids are busy. Pre-made meals can seem to save the day – but only if we’re thinking in the short term.

Consider the long-term inconveniences of the chronic health problems that arise from diet – oral and systemic alike – and the short term benefits shrink.

Fortunately, with a little planning and prep, healthful eating – real food you make at home from whole foods combined by human hands – can become just as convenient. Consider incorporating some of the following practices into your routine:

  1. No time to grocery shop? Many stores have started offering home delivery again or will bag the food and have it available for pickup. This can be a huge timesaver. Check with your local stores to see if they offer this service.

  2. Meal prep on days off. If there are one or two days during the week with fewer activities, try to spend a little time prepping veggies or marinating proteins. One of the biggest time-sucks is prepping veggies (some of the most important ingredients you can use). Chopping, dicing or marinating on the weekend can make for some easy cooking on the weeknights.

  3. When cooking, cook a little extra. Consider doubling recipes to have an entire meal ready for another night.

  4. Consider a pressure cooker to easily turn vegetables and protein into a quick soup. You can even bake potatoes or hard boil eggs in pressure cookers, in a fraction of the time.

  5. Conversely, consider a slow-cooker that you can start early then effectively ignore until meal time.

  6. Some restaurants are better than others. When you really do want someone else to do the cooking, consider restaurants that might include locally sourced foods or at least feature foods that are organic and sustainably raised. You may even find farm-to-table options that could be both healthy and educational for the family.

Even starting out by giving up one or two days of fast food can make a huge difference. And gradually, you may find that this becomes easier to incorporate into your every day routine (and easier on your wallet).