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Poll: Do You Think Children Are Making Healthier Choices?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When my teenage children were little and we would travel to visit grandma, stopping at a restaurant with a play land if it was cold or rainy was a must. Not only did it provide a lunch or dinner break but also a place for our children to burn some of their energy during the 10-hour car trip.

Since we had healthier snacks in the car, I didn't really worry so much about the nutrition options, but did try to make smart choices for them when possible. I would get funny looks when I requested milk instead of soda and had to pay extra for it several times, but that was really the only healthy option I had. Back then it was a burger or fried chicken nuggets with French fries and a drink if you wanted a kid's meal.

Today there are all sorts of choices like yogurt, fruit and grilled chicken when you want to select a smaller child's portion meal. Are all these healthier choices making a difference with the children?

An article from the New York Times earlier this week indicates that the choices American children are making when eating away from home are changing. Survey information from the Chicago market research firm NPD Group also indicates that childhood obesity appears to have hit a plateau after being on a two-decade rise.

There can be a variety of reasons we may be seeing childhood obesity stabilize. Here are a few of my thoughts related to why we may be seeing the start of a new and wonderful trend.

Healthier restaurant options - The research results are showing that when healthier options are offered, children under the age of 13 are selecting them. Selection of colas, chicken nuggets and strips, French fries and hot dogs are down while there is an increase in selection of soups, grilled chicken, yogurt, carrots and fruit.

Increased focus on active video options - Today you can find more active video options for all ages than in years past. The introduction of the Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit a few years ago brought many 'tweens and teens off the couch and into the living room for active video interaction and competition. The Fisher Price Smart Cycle was selected by the Toy Industry as 'The Most Innovative and Educational Toy of the Year' for 2008. When the options are made available, they are popular and being used.

Increased active group options - It used to be when groups of youth wanted to "hang out" they could walk around the mall, go the movies or maybe go bowling before ending up at a restaurant to eat. Today's youth have more active options available than ever before. Today in many communities they can meet for a game of laser tag or paintball or head to an indoor rock wall for a group climb. Being active has become an option many youth enjoy participating in together.

Parents are taking more interest in their own health - Parents are their children's best teacher. This includes health and fitness as much as anything else. Children especially under the age of 13 typically are not responsible for the purchase of food, preparation of food, setting the house rules related to TV and video time or how often the family dines away from home. Heaven help us if they did! Parents decide what to eat, how to prepare it, how active children will be based on how much TV and video time is allowed and how often families eat away from home. As parents have taken an increased interest in their own health and activity level, their children have been the beneficiary of the improved family lifestyle as well.

Why do you think the childhood obesity rate has finally leveled off? Do you think families and children are making healthier choices?

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I think more parents are paying attention to what theri chidlrebn are eating and doing. (But I still can't stnad seeing 7 and 8 yos in Starbuicks with Mommy buying them a Starbuck coffee drink). Report
with my children, i would have to say they are not making healthier choices. it's a work in progress. Report
I think kids are more AWARE of the healthy options out there but still often choose the wrong foods. Report
I know that my lifestyle change efforts have impacted everyone in my family, some more than others, some in one respect or another. I am glad; I think the one thing I have learned that is of utmost importance; focus on yourself, with a healthy regard, and in doing so, that is the best way to impact those you love to do the same. Report
Last year, my 8th grader was spending $5 a day on "a la carte" lunch items so I looked up what he was buying. He ate pizza and "soup" every day. Since he complained that I made soup too often, I became suspicious and asked him. He said he ordered pizza and a slushie every day! So...the school lunch program information was misleading me to think he was eating healthy by having soup, when he was REALLY having "high fructose corn syrup soup" every day!

Our solution, since the $5/day expense had gone on too long, was to cut him off from school lunches. Now he packs his lunch every day, which means his choices are limited to what I buy for him to pack. He still eats a lot of pizza, but also brings leftovers and sandwiches too.

Now...if I could only get him to eat fruit! He loves vegetables/salad, but eats hardly any fruit. He'll drink a smoothie (healthy, with yogurt, fruit & juice, wheat germ & whey/soy protein) with fruit but won't eat whole fruit. Report
The children are far less likely to make good choice if their parents don't teach them. Many parents sacrifice healthy eating for convenience: Dad can run the kids through the drive-through and then rush home to watch the ball game. He knows better, but hey . . . Then, no matter waht he teaches his kids verbally, the lesson they learned is to eat at the drive-through. Report
I give some/most credit to the schools recently. My son eats 2/3 meals at school and also has a snack in school. He's been to 2 schools around this area in the past 2 years as we moved and he's now in 2nd grade. The schools around here have done an AMAZING job in helping parents with food issues. The meals are healthier and they even learn all about food choices. They can only have healthy snacks as well. My son eats a lot of fruit and veggies now and it was something I tried to teach him on my own but it didn't stick well until he went to school. Seeing other kids eating the healthy choices must be the key. He sees them eating it and thinks it's not so bad! He also has a much better idea of portion sizes than I had growing up!

I will always continue to teach him, but I'm glad to have the school on my side. Report
Everywhere I go I see obese children. It is a sad situation and the health issues of these kids for the future is even sadder. I know of families that think it is perfectly okay for the kids to play video games and sit in front of the tv or computer all day. I am not convinced there is a plateau on childhood obesity. Report
I am so happy to see that my 15 year old grandson is actually trying to add vegetables to his diet. He expressed it himself. whew! Report
Complicated issue. This is the complete opposite to the views held by the media at the moment. Both opinions are very biased. Things might slowly be getting better due to the points in the post here, but if you look back a bit further from where you were looking, things were much better. without the use of things such as cars and TV, the world is steadily getting fatter. That is the view of the media, and to be honest, it's true. Over a couple of years it has been getting better, but we are still nowhere near as healthy as we were. Report
Kids makeing better chocies? Why do youe xpect the kids to make better chocies when it is mom or dad who are driving into the fast food places. All we have to do si look at them in the malls and around town to know the answer is NO! With the short tops and tight clothes that leave all those bellys hanging out with rolls and rolls it isn't hard to see the answer. They seem to wear their weight like a badge of pride instead of taking pride in themselves to be fit. They r not alone i was at a beach over the 4th i was shocked ot see the big bellys on display on ALL ages . With all the chocies of suits that cover us up why would anyone chocie to hang a big flabby belly or anything else out for the world to see?
if you wonder does she have a belly is she over weight the answer is yes . At 59 i am struggling to lose and get fit but I don't wear string bikinis or 2 pieces that dont cover up my faults. Report
I have children that range in all sizes - morbidly obese (doctor's term) and extremely thin - I promote healthier choices, and their parents have started doing it too - I hope this news it correct and we see the number of obese children go down. Report
It is far too early to declare victory about childhood obesity. Comparing it to weight loss here, we wouldn't consider a person stuck (or maintaining) a weight just because it held steady for a little while. This particular change could just as easily be attributed to households cutting back on junk foods to save money! I hope it's a true trend and that healthy options are helping - but it worries me when a problem is declared to be 'solved' just because there is a momentary improvement. Same thing on the savings rates per household - yes, people are saving more and getting rid of debt, but is it a yo-yo financial diet or is it because there has been a true lifestyle change? Time will tell. And we still have many obese children who need help. Report
Schools are helping by eliminating unhealthy food options and promoting fitness. If schools and parents work together children will develop much healthier habits. They may stray but hopefully come back to the foundation they were given growing up. Report
I think childhood obesity is still an issue and I blame it on the sugary drinks! I only let my kids drink sodas or sugary juices once a week. Lately, they've been begging for them less and asking for....MORE WATER....thanks to Wat-aah! They saw the bottle and were instantly seduced by the cute cartoon packaging. Report
well... since being 'here' on SP, my eyes are open WIDE to my daughter's snacking intake and, we've cut a lot of junk out... but... it's a constant WATCH to see that she eats her 5 (fruits & veggies) plus, drinks her 8. It used to be a battle... now... it's just gentle reminders and the pennies over the kitchen sink window sill REALLY works. 8 pennies start on the left side and by bedtime, 8 pennies are (mostly) on the right!! I learned that here at SP! Report
Nutrition knowledge is a must now a days. The person last comment is very true. This knowledge changes with every generation and every new developement. It is wise to show children how to eat by example as well as explaining the why's. Weight is a problem still in todays children but I hope the reports are right that times are changing. Report
the bad stuff taste better we all know that, but who is doing the shopping? if you don't bring in the junk kids won't need to make a choice about what is better. its all on the parents if you show your kids healthy habits they will follow in your footsteps. Report
i think education and providing healthy options is key Report
I believe the vast majority of parents care deeply about their children and are not lazy, but overwhelmed. That is why the more education we can give people and the more easy healthy alternatives we can give parents for their children, the bigger difference we can make in the lives of the next generation. Report
It is ALL about the parents. If you are lazy parents who feed your kids Mac & cheese because you can't take time to cook good meals, then that is what the kids will eat. I kept my children going to JUDO classes and active in school sports, because I never wanted them to be FAT kids. None of my five children are fat. In fact, my 2 sons are doing Tony Horton's P90X work out now. Report
If you stock your kitchen with junk, the kids will eat it. If you stock your kitchen with healthy snacks, the kids will eat those. Just stop supplying the junk! Make the kids spend their own money on treats. That's how my folks did it. Report
If the adults will make healthy choices so will the children. Report
I have 2 kids who always makes great choices. We went out to Applebees for a free lunch earlier this week and neither kid wanted anything off the kid menu. Kid menus are terrible! We all split a green salad with dressing on the side. They are 7 and 6. Report
mine do Report
I think children are sometimes smarter than adults give them credit for. When my sister was young, she preferred the healthier options naturally without any prodding from my parents. To this day, she remains practically vegetarian and her food choices have always been smart ones. So were mine; the idea of eating what most fast food restaurants serve --- I've worked at most of them --- gags me. I know how much fat is in even the 'healthier' options and how poorly stored the healthy menu items can be.

As for the childhood obesity, I'd be more worried about children becoming obsessed with their weight at an earlier and earlier age. No one ever says anything about the rates of anorexia or disordered eating among school age children but I'll bet it's far higher than the obesity rate and much less monitored. Many of the kids I taught were already watching their weights at age ten or so and didn't need to be on a diet or losing weight at all.

What would really help would be re-implementing the mandatory gym times and having someone monitor the food content again. I do remember a time when school foods were actually healthy choices.

But then, I also remember when going to a fast food place or a restaurant was a treat and not a standard means of eating dinner.

It all comes down to the parents, really. They need to actively participate on all levels and supervise their children's eating habits. Report
I think some poor choices are disquised as "healthy items" (e.g. Healthy Choice cookies). Because they "look" healthy people eat them more often and in higher quantity than they should (I used to be there!!). These "healthy" options are still highly processed and empty of nutritional value. I think until people (adults and kids alike) can discern between true good choices and perceived good choices, child and adult weight issues will continue. Report
well, my oldest daughter is anorexic and tis really tough for her, but i dont really understand it. shes currently recovering but its taking a long time. my other daughter is overweight which is a contrast. its hard to balance the weight loss with the gaining. the thin daughter sued to be fatt though. my son is the youngest but he isnt very healthy - too fat.
bad really... Report
Lack of employment = no $$$ = less trips to McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Baskin Robbins, and Dairy Queen = less children eating unhealthy! ALSO as the parents age and fight their own weight issues, the menus families deal with tend to put what they are eating into perspective and healthier less fatty and sugary things are put on the table. Report
My daughter, age 18, has the opposite of obesity. She's an undereater, and has been hospitalized for it. So, in order to keep her weight up, she eats horribly! And still doesn't gain much weight. I was the same as she is when I was her age, and I'm horribly overweight right now. I keep telling her: it will all catch up to you. She just snorts at me.

I felt her upper arm last night, for some reason. She's flabbier than me! I need to get her exercising, but it's almost impossible. She is NOT making better choices, and she is NOT exercising. I guess she figures that since she's literally SKINNY, she doesn't have to. I wish I could get her to understand: toned and firm skinny is best. Report
I am very fortunate that my kids go for the healthy foods and eat the right balance despite the bad habits that I have displayed in the past. However, I do not feel that this true of children in general. I remember when I was growing up that I had one classmate who was obese (due to a medical problem) and one who was over weight (I do not know why). But as a whole, the kids that I went to school with were healthy, athletic and an appropriate weight for their age and height.

I look at my children's peers and I am astonished. There are so many of them that are over weight or obese and they are still in ELEMENTARY school. What are we doing as a society? Teaching our children to sit in front of the computer and TV all day and then chow down junk? I really hope that we get more of these kids outside, playing with peers, active in sports and eating healthy foods. It is our responsibility as the parents to provide them the guidance and that includes maintaining the healthy habits ourselves.

Let me tell you, looking in the mirror on this topic is a tough one. I am so thankful that SparkPeople has supported me during a critical change in my life and that will help support my children maintaining the good habits that they already have.
Childhood obesity isn't an issue in my particular household. My boys are 3rd generation underweight kids. The pediatrician is constantly on me about it. That being said, I try not to let my kids make unhealthy choices just for the sake of getting in a few extra calories. I was thrilled when they both chose mandarin oranges and milk at Wendy's while we were traveling last weekend. Report
Since I've joined Spark, my two teens have started reading labels on foods and watching what they eat. Especially my 19 year old son. He has started watching his sodium intake because his bp was reading a little high at the doctor the last couple of times. I think it was caused by nerves. He's not overweight, but I'm really proud of him for monitoring what goes into his body now.

My daughter that is 15 has always preferred eating fruits and veggies over junk food. A bag of cookies or chips will last for months in my house. Report
I really hope the obesity levels have finally stopped rising. I see far too many obese children and adults around me every day. Sometimes I feel like I want to walk up to one of them and tell them about SparkPeople! But I think that would be presumptuous and rude. Report
I am a teacher and I still like to have the odd time when we can enjoy a treat with no redeeming value. It seems part of a special day. The trouble is that many students bring what I would call "treats" on a regular basis.

On the other hand, as I try to eat healthy, many of the high school kids walk up and comment on my choices of food in an approving way or share what their favourites are. It's surprising how many of them do think about what they put into their bodies. Report
It definitely looks promising! :) I know I want to stress healthy eating and exercise to my future child. Report
For so long I wasn't making the right decisions for my boys, but now we are making the right ones together. In the last 2 months we have started biking, working out, and eating healthy together. I is motivation for me to watch them work out with me and it helps them when they bike, I go to the gym and bike and work out. So yes maybe for far too long we were doing it wrong but changing a lifestyle will benefit me and them in a long life to come. Report
I haven't seen much proof of obesity dropping off much. It seems everywhere I look, parents/guardians are still buying french fries for their kids when the kids don't like what is made at home. Or, the parents/guardians are making the food at home because the kids won't eat the healthy options out there. Several of my family members are very large - obese - and they are letting their kids fall into the same habits or routines because it's less fuss and easier. Report
I'm excited to hear about this, but still skeptical. I would be sooooo happy if it were true, but I don't see much of this going on around me. My kids are always the odd ones out because they know how to make healthier choices (and that's not saying they always make them, LOL!) Report
I think enough parents are health conscious and have said ENOUGH! to the advertising and food industries. They've taken control of what their children will eat. Two days ago, on GMA, one of the anchors interviewed a parent who was taking on the school system for feeding the children junk foods at class parties and for rewards. I am a teacher, and I think she is correct in taking this stance. (I didn't agree with all of her methods for doing it, but she does have the right idea.) Parents must insist their children are able to have nutritious foods and snacks as well as places to play.

Now, if there could be sweeping changes to children's school lunch programs so it wouldn't be full of fat, sodium and cholesterol.... Report
Parents are the most influential people in children's lives. What the parents do, the kids do. And parents must actually live what they preach - kids see right through them when they say one thing and do another.

I'm not impressed with this survey. It's way to early to start celebrating, most of the media picks up on whatever issue they want to blow up and puts whatever spin on it that they want. When I see actually results in the real world, not just in print, then I'll believe things are changing! Report
Children will eat what parents eat. If parents stress the importance of a proper diet, eventually it'll begin to sink in. If parents eat junk, so will their kids. Report
I work in a school cafeteria and I see what the kids put into the garbage cans. Sorry but they do not eat all that good stuff you pack. I cannot speak for every child but junk food rules. Report
I made the decision years ago to prepare healthy meals for my family. When my sons became adults they went all out eating what they wanted and I guess I did too. It's funny, as they married and had children they made the decision to return to healthy meals because they wanted their children to eat right. No more Captain Crunch cereal, but then again Wheaties and Cheerios, which is the only cereal I allowed them to eat when they were little, is not for their kids. We're talking Oatmeal and homemade granola. Report
I don't think we will see childhood obesity rate level off until we see adult obesity level off. Kids do what their parents do - I learned to be fat by copying my parents behaviors, now that I am an adult I fully understand how I came to be almost 350 lbs. My kids (10 & 3) see me going for the healthier options, so they do the same, they see me working out and they do the same - I always feel a sense of pride when the 10 year old asks if he can use the elliptical and the 3 year old beg to go for an evening walk. I am doing something right. Report
Only if the parents inforce healthy eating at home as well as school. So many unhealthy choices are made by the parent and this teaches children that it is okay to eat badly. Report
Kids? Are we talking about elementary children or older?The younger children are learning in school to eat healthier and try to bring that info home and it is then up to their parents to comply,because they are only kids.My obeservation of teens today is .....I have never seen so many overweight and lazy teens.My neighborhood has over a dozen teens.I never see any rake,mow the lawn,shovel snow,walk their dogs, or even pull in a garbage pail.I blame their parents.They don't even ride the school bus,I see the buses one at the bus stops..and then I see the cars drive by with these parents driving their kids.
Both of my sons are young adults .One is a city guy who has no car,walks everywhere,packs his own lunch and cooks healthy wok dinnners.He is a Teacher.My other son is a country guy,married with 1 child,his wife works full time(in banking).She uses the crock pot during the week and he (in law enforcement)cooks on the grill on the weekend.I did not feed them fast food and they don't eat it now. Report
I think this is true. I was in high school about 10 years ago, and even then my friends and I would get together and play ultimate frisbee, tag, volleyball instead of going to the movies or just loafing around. Lots of kids I know did just lay around, but I wasn't that kind of kid. I think kids today have more options as to what to do with their time and television isn't the only option anymore. Report
Wow--come to Cincinnati and you'll see more heavier kids than ever! But I still blame the parents--at least of the younger kids who are heavy. Nine times out of 10, the parents are big, too, so the kids only eat what is served to them and learn from their parents' examples.

I'm still disappointed that hot dogs and cheese sandwiches are considered healthy lunch alternatives within the schools--at least that's what I was told when I brought up my concern about the choices available to my son at his school. We can't pack every day.

As for healthier restaurant options for the kids, I have yet to see anyone order Apple Dippers instead of fries for their kids at McDonald's, unless they family looks physically healthy already, of course. Report
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