Shahin Soltanian, PhD in philosophy from the University of Auckland. Author of The Kashfence Philosophy (Discovering Through Rational and Scientific Analysis). Undergraduate studies included in addition to philosophy, psychology and civil engineering. Helped many people with weight management and fitness.
One of the major health concerns of
the 21th Century is Obesity.Food variety is available more than ever before and technology has
resulted in most individuals being less physically active.The availability of ready-made food at the
supermarket, local takeaway, restaurant and store which is usually made out of
unhealthy ingredients has changed the eating habits of most people.A combination of all such factors is what has
caused a worldwide pandemic of people being overweight.The problem with habits is that they are hard
Generally speaking when a person has
grown up eating a certain type of food all their life their taste buds are
bound to be used to such flavors.I have
met many people who had a diet of regular spicy food since childhood and find
anything that is not spicy bland.I have
met others (majority of individuals I meet) who are so used to sugar that
anything without sugar or some kind of sweetness is not palatable for them.Hence I believe the key to individuals having
a healthy lifestyle (exercise, diet, weight and the benefits that come with it)
as an adult is if they develop such a habit as a child.But how is this achieved in today’s world on
the part of the parents in particular and by society in general?To start with we need to assess the impediments
to children developing healthy eating habits.
Children eat and do what is made
available to them by those who look after them comprising of parents,
caregivers and school.Therefore, it is
the parents and caregivers who are the first reason for how their children’s
taste buds develop as they grow into adulthood.There are many reasons why parents don’t instill healthy eating habits
in children.Below we will go through
some of them and try to find a solution in this article.
Reason 1: Lack of Knowledge and
Awareness Regarding Healthy Food
Probably one of the main reasons is
that most parents and caregivers simply lack the knowledge of what it means to
eat healthy and nutritious meals themselves. This problem is exasperated by the fact that
most people do not know how to go about checking hidden unhealthy ingredients
in products they buy.Many individuals
are completely unaware that despite the fact that they add no sugar into the food
they are eating many products actually have added sugar.Most sauces, spreads as well as dairy
products such as yoghurt and flavored milk have added sugar.
There is a lack of awareness that
although processed sugar is quite unhealthy, excess glucose intake from other
sources are just as bad if not worst.I
know of many people who in an attempt to have better eating habits stop adding
sugar to their tea.But they go on to
eat several dates along with their tea which ends up having more sugar than the
original added sugar.Carbohydrates also
turn into glucose (see this link: Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar).So quitting sugar but adding several extra
pieces of white bread is not necessarily a healthier option.
Solution: In the first instance it
is the individuals themselves, whether parent or not, that need to make the
effort to become informed about healthy eating and lifestyle.This does not mean that government
organizations should be standing by.Government policies can include methods of informing people of healthy
eating habits and exercise though various different methods such as the media
and school education.
Reason 2: Convenience in Eating
Foods low in nutritional value and
high in unhealthy ingredients are more easily available than healthy food.This becomes a little tricky.A person can buy a packet of carrots just as
easily as two packets of chips or dried fruit at the supermarket.However, the packets of chips can be given to
the children or carried to an outing without much preparation.A container of carrots on the other hand
needs to be prepared by cutting them into eatable portions and stored in an
appropriate container.Dried food also
last longer.Many dried fruits however have
shocking levels of added sugar.
Solution: Like anything else
important to a person, an individual can reorganize their priorities to include
time for preparing healthy food.Instead
of two hours of watching TV or going on social media, do so for an hour and
spend the other one hour preparing healthy eating options.
Reason 3: Cultural Eating Habits
There are many different cultures
around the world that have developed their dishes and eating habits based on
their historical geopolitical environment.Those environments have changed over the years but the eating habits
intended for it has remained the same.If historically the lifestyle of a particular ethnic group included
certain level of intense physical activity then the cultural dishes of that
group might be high in calories in the form of carbohydrates.
Solution: Since circumstances
leading to the development of such eating habits have changed and life has
become more sedentary the eating habits need to change and adapt if long term
health goals are to be achieved.This
does not mean culturally unique foods need to be eliminated altogether to stay
healthy.It just means there need to be
adjustments to dishes in order to keep the flavour while making it
healthier.Cultural pride should not be
associated with unhealthy eating habits.
Reason 4: Parents Don’t Want Their
Kids to Miss Out
I have heard many parents with the
mentality that if they teach their children to develop healthy eating habits
and avoid unhealthy food they are stopping them from experiencing fun things
like eating a lollipop.Some think that
if they do this their children will binge on such things at an older age.To demonstrate the fallacy of this type of
thinking I usually make an analogy regarding smoking tobacco.Imagine a parent who has smoked all their
life and did not live in a culture that frowns on smoking allows their children
to smoke.When you inform them that they
are actually harming their children by allowing them to smoke they turn around
and tell you that they don’t want them to miss out.What if they miss out now and grow up and
become chain smokers because of not having smoked as a child?That is ridiculous you say.To someone with awareness regarding healthy
nutritious eating habits it sounds just as ridiculous for parents to think
their children are missing out if they don’t eat unhealthy food.
Once when I was around five or six
years old I sat next to my great grandmother who was a smoker.She came from a generation that had no idea
about the adverse effects of smoking.She offered me a puff from her precious cigarette in the view that she
is doing me a favour.I refused because
I always hated smoking.But in her mind
she did not want me to miss out on something she found enjoyable.
Solution: If a person does not start
smoking up to a certain age it is very unlikely they would do so later on and will
most likely be quite aversive to it.In
the same way, if a person is used to healthy nutritious foods rather than foods
high in sugar content and other unhealthy ingredients will in the majority of
cases grow up with a taste for healthy food and an aversion for unhealthier
Parents need to think, just like my
great grandmother is it the case that they are imposing what they believe to be
enjoyable onto their children despite it being unhealthy.If children are brought up not to like lollipops
not only they don’t think they missed out but will also thank their parents in
Reason 5: Financial Situations of
The reality of the world we live in
today is that ready-made unhealthy food is much cheaper than healthy alternatives.Buying fresh vegetables and fruits and then
having the time to prepare them all cost more money than a takeaway meal from
the fast-food joint nearby.This means
that people in lower socioeconomic circumstances who cannot afford healthy food
options and don’t have the time to prepare it will likely resort to unhealthy
available options instead.
The other issue is that it seems
companies with cheap unhealthy products know where to advertise their
food.In many countries it is likely to
find advertisement for unhealthy food options more apparent in lower
socioeconomic locations in a city than ones from higher socioeconomic areas.
Solution:The most important solution for the financial
barrier to healthy eating needs to come from the government.The government must introduce policies that
tax unhealthy food and use that tax to subsidize healthier options.This is better for the governments fiscally
too because healthier individuals means less individuals using the public
health and financial aid systems.So a
combination of information output regarding healthy eating and taxing of
unhealthier alternatives is probably a useful government approach.
But the fact that healthier food is
more expensive does not dissolve individuals from responsibility altogether.Individuals can adjust and reassess their
budget to account for healthy food as much as possible.
Reason 6: Societal and Peer Pressure
One of the worst impediments to
developing a healthy eating habit is peer and societal pressure.Such pressures are ideological and others
personal.In it is extremely unhelpful
to set a good healthy eating habit for your kids just to see them eating unhealthy
food when they are at a relative or friend’s house.Some relatives or friends might assume, as
mentioned above, that parents are causing their kids to miss out on “fun”
food.Others might have misguided ideas
about having healthy eating habits is equal to having an eating disorder.There might even be some who are simply
jealous because they refuse to put in the effort themselves.
Solution:Teaching your children healthy eating habits
and the confidence to say no is a behaviour that parents should be instilling
in their children.Most people will be
surprised when they see how good kids are in taking a stance about what they
believe in when facing difficult social situations.Children should be brought up to be polite
but firm in saying no to unhealthy alternatives.There will be one of three reactions to
children’s refusal to eat something unhealthy.Either the family or friend will appreciate their intelligence, politeness
and confidence, the ideal situation.The
family or friend will be upset.It is
time to reassess how much time you want to interact or socialize with such
people if any.There will be awkward
silence.In this last case, it is both
good for children to learn how to deal with such situations and the adults
involved getting an idea on how to deal with it next time.
Reason 7: Pressure from Big
Major food companies and fast food
stores will be resistant to anything that would decrease their profits.Cigarette companies, for example, fought
tooth and nail to stop cigarette packages displaying health warnings.It seems however, either because of the
experience with the cigarette companies or because of available options to
continue to make profit, food companies are more willing to innovate their products
to make them healthier.
Solution:People’s eating habits, active role of the
government in spreading information regarding healthy eating habits and
government taxing policies could change the way food companies provide and
Reason 8: Treats for doing/being
Based on the misguided idea that
unhealthy foods are fun many parents use it for reward and punishment.If a child does well at a task or behaves as
they were told they get a treat of the unhealthy food.If on the other hand they have not done their
homework or eaten their food fast enough they are chastised by taking away the
“fun”.This instills the idea that
unhealthy food is 1) a rewarding experience and 2) a fun treat.It is based on the parents’ ideas of fun and what
constitutes a treat which they developed during their childhood.
Solution:Cut out all unhealthy foods and avoid
rewarding or chastising children using food.
Is Exercise Enough?
Many parents are unaware of
importance of nutrition in their children’s weight management.It is common to hear an individual sigh about
how much exercise they do without seeing result in terms of weight loss.However, the most important factor for weight
gain, maintenance or loss has to do with nutrition.A person’s weight fluctuations have to do
with the amount of calories the body takes in compared to the amount it
uses.Calories are the energy fuel of
the body.If the body takes in more
calories than it uses up it will store those calories for later and weight
increases.If the body takes in fewer
calories than it uses the result is weight loss.If the calories it takes in equals the amount
it uses then the individual’s weight is maintained.Genetics do play a role in how an
individual’s body metabolizes food and the calories that come with it.However, the most important thing in weight
fluctuation is calories.This is in a
normal case where underlying medical conditions or medications don’t affect the
way the body reacts or metabolizes food.(See link: Antipsychotic-associated weight gain: management strategiesand impact on treatment adherence).In cases of medical condition or
medication weight can still be managed using calorie calculation and food
Exercise has separate benefits both
in terms of health and aesthetic value but when it comes to weight management
it plays a very small part.An
individual does not burn enough calories during an exercise routine to make up
for large amounts of calorie intake from unhealthy food.For a healthy lifestyle there needs to be an
appropriate diet and exercise plan.
In conclusion, developing healthy
eating habits for children will result in a longer more enjoyable lifespan with
less medical complications as well as the aesthetic benefit that accompanies
it.Children will not only be thankful
to their parents for such results but will pass on the same habits to their children.
Dr Shahin Soltanian has a PhD in philosophy from
the University of Auckland. He is the author of The Kashfence Philosophy
(Discovering Through Rational and Scientific Analysis). His undergraduate
studies included in addition to philosophy, psychology and civil engineering.
He has helped many people with weight management and fitness.