Tag Archives: childhood obesity

Teens and Table Talk

Before kids and when they were very small, I used to fear the teen years. Visions of my sweet cuddling tots turned goth, rude teens hiding in their rooms with ear-buds in danced through my brain. Now, with 2, nearly three teens at home I no longer fear. Their reality is a thing of wonder to me. They are not rude. Quiet at times but, not rude. I have to pull out the ear buds all too often but, they do not sulk behind closed doors. And most reassuring, they are still quite cuddly – when they want to be.
Given this reassuring state, I can be taken aback when they momentarily act like “real” teens.
I have held family dinnertime sacred in my house. Even through change, upheaval and redefinition of family itself, dinners together come first. Last night at dinner I asked the kids why they thought dinners together were so important. My middle child said with a snarky tone, “because they keep us connected at the heart.” Her hands acted this out with fingers first intertwined and then in the shape of a heart. Eyes rolled. But then, thankfully there came a smile.
The evidence continues to pour in. Eating meals with family is good for kids.  In 2010 a study of nearly 9,000 4 year-old children published in the journal Pediatrics concluded (in part) that young children who regularly ate the evening meal as a family had a significantly lower prevalence of obesity. Other studies recently published in the journal Obesity have supported the idea that teenagers who eat with their family are less likely to be obese at baseline. Then last month yet another group of researchers published data showing that teens who eat with their families have higher well-being, lower depression and fewer risk-taking behaviors. More work has shown frequent family meals were significantly associated with a lower likelihood of adolescent alcohol and tobacco use. In the May 2010 issue of Journal of Health Psychology teens’ experience at the mealtimes was found to be connected with this decreased rate of substance use.
Looking at all of this evidence makes it very clear. We need to eat dinner with our kids for the sake of their health. We need to cultivate ways to make our dinnertime conversations meaningful, interesting, thought-provoking. Sure, some of the research shows a benefit to simply sitting around the table together but, you might as well have fun while you sit there. Around my table we have through the years talked about almost everything. Any topic is acceptable if brought up with good intention and true curiosity. Politics, sex, religion? We have covered them all. We have played games. I have been repeatedly accused of being a pain about their manners. There have been giggles, anger and tears. We rate the meals so I know whether to cook the recipes again. Lots of meals have been rejected. And instead of cooking, many pizzas have been ordered.
Now with so many sports teams, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and social engagements that my head spins keeping it all straight, we don’t all sit together every night. But, whomever is at home sits and talks. Sometimes I wait up and eat with the late-after-practice arrivers. Sundays we all meet – even if other invitations have to be turned down. I’d like to think this commitment has paid off through the years.
My eldest can be a bit quiet. I generalize this into fitting his teen boy status – they all keep to them selves a bit don’t they? Once not too long ago, I challenged him on his laconic nature. I asked if he would talk to me when it really mattered? He stopped, looked at me and said yes. I asked why? How could I be sure? He explained that he knew I could handle talking about anything. After all, we do just that on any given Sunday around the table.
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All the Cool Cowboys Eat Yogurt (or, Nutritional Soundbite #3: limit drinks that taste sweet)

Two of my patients came into the office recently with their parent for check ups. I was a bit late coming in to see them so, started of with the all too familiar apology. Then we chatted about the heat and then summer books, movies, camps and camping. I asked what questions they had and, they asked if they needed shots (one did, one did not – always awkward to explain, that one!) All the while I realized I was stalling, dancing around the issue at hand.
Both children have weight problems. Technically speaking, their body mass indexes or, BMIs  are well out of the normal range or, in the range we physicians rather horribly term “obese.” They are both attractive, happy, smart and one is really quite funny. They like each other, they are respectful and fun. How on earth am I to find the words to tell them they are dangerously overweight without wounding their young confidence? Without alienating their parent?
I breathed in and began with the usual questions and followed with a display of their growth charts. It turned out the family had already been discussing change. They were walking each night. They were trying new veggies and thinking about serving sizes. I asked about what they thought I wanted them to drink?
Water!
And, what do you drink?
Juice! Apple and orange!
Ah, there was the change to focus on. I offered the rule of thumb that one 8 oz cup of juice a day has enough calories to cause a 15 lb weight gain over a year. That one usually works. But the parent looked at me and said with an exhale
But, it is just so hard to say no.
I get it. My 17 y/o son has a close friend that I adore. They have know each other since preschool days. I have watched this boy move from sandbox play to stellar sports play,  through cowboy costumes to awkward gangsta-style hats and now to be a rather stunning, clean cut young man. He is at my house often and when he arrives he walks straight through the door, around to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. Spoon in one hand, he then heads to the boy-den in the garage with his bounty. It makes me happy every time. There is something in my refrigerator that he wanted? Cool.
We get such joy out of feeding our children. I cook well, my kids eat well and usually healthfully. My refrigerator staples are rather boring from a kids perspective. But, every now and then I will head off to the store and come home with some major treats. Watching the glee that comes as the kids root around and find these treats is fun. I feel, oddly as if I have done a good job. But after a bit, I get a bad taste in my mouth (and it is not from the chips 🙂 )
In fact, doing the right thing by our children means being a bit tough. Don’t buy the juice. Definitely skip the soda. Cut up the apples and put them in a central location. Skip the chips. You’ll never know what they learn to like. My friend the cowboy-gangsta-lacrosse star? He devours, container after container, case by case, high-protein, low sugar greek yogurts. And, go figure, all this time I thought I needed to bribe them with junk.