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Help your child have healthy school year

Published August 31. 2013 09:00AM

The opening anecdote to last week's column expressed a trickle-down effect you probably already knew. Because it's certainly tougher to be a teenager than ever before, it's also tougher to be a parent.

Since a good start to a new school year is imperative if your child is going to have yearlong success, last week's column offered health-and-fitness advice that could help parents help their sons and daughters.

In that column I called effective parenting "a never-ending endeavor that's more an art than a science." That doesn't mean you can't use the latest research to decide what's best for your son or daughter, however, only that your set of family circumstances and the personality of you son or daughter need as much consideration as the data.

With that in mind, here are some other ideas to consider as you tackle the never-ending endeavor of being a mom or dad.

* Good things happen when you eat family meals together

Yes, sports and activities and overtime often make family meals seem impossible, but a study performed at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found a strong correlation between the frequency of family meals and the mental health of teens. The correlation held firm regardless of the teen's age or gender, the family's wealth and even whether or not the teen was able to talk easily to mom and pop.

The researchers used data on more than 26,000 11-to-15-year-olds surveyed in the 2010 Canadian Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children report and found "consistent effects" from family meals. Frank Elgar, a McGill University professor who co-authored the study, said, "From having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health."

Mental health was measured in this study in five areas: internalizing and externalizing problems, emotional well-being, helpful behaviors, and life satisfaction.

* Bad things happen when your child drinks soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks

For years, I've been advising all to severely limit the calories ingested by drinking liquids, primarily because studies have shown those calories go unnoticed by your internal systems, which leads to an overconsumption of calories. Now a study done at the University of North Carolina and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine demonstrated that to definitely be true for children from the ages of 2 to 18.

By analyzing the data accrued in the 2003-2010 What We Eat in America, National Health, and Nutrition Examination surveys totaling nearly 11,000 children, University of North Carolina researchers discovered a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and the consumption of foods higher in caloric content, foods that I might call junk foods, such as cakes, cookies, pies, other sweets, French fries, potato chips, and most forms of pizza.

In essence, the study determined that drinking junk makes your child more likely to eat junk, which makes it essential that you enforce limits on sugary liquids.

* Regardless of what your child eats or where he or she eats it, be cognizant of portion size

Research finds this true for adults as well. Give someone of any age a large serving of something and he or she will eat more.

The most recent research found that this holds true even if that someone has been schooled on the significance of portion sizes. That means parents need to offer smaller portions to their children to prevent mindless overeating, rather than to simply warn of the tendency.

Research from the University of South Wales published in the Journal of Health Psychology showed even after a session designed to make the subjects more mindful of overeating or an educational lesson on the matter, women presented with a 600-gram portion of macaroni and tomato sauce ate about a third more than those given a 350-gram portion of the same

The difference equates to 87 additional calories at one meal. When projected over one year for breakfast, lunch, and supper, that's over 27 pounds.

But not all meals are eaten at home. Unfortunately, when teens are allowed to eat at fast food chains, research published in BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) found that they underestimated the number of calories they're ingesting.


In the research conducted by the Harvard Medical School with help from the public health departments in Massachusetts and Connecticut, 3,400 adults, teens, and children were taken to fast-food restaurants in New England, told to order, and then estimated the number of calories for their meal. All research was done at restaurants that did not post calorie information.

Teens, on the average, underestimated by 259 calories, with one out of every four underestimating by more than 500.

Interestingly, all subjects were most likely to underestimate when guessing at Subway. Researchers believed that's because Subway is considered the healthiest available fast-food.

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