Four pillars for teaching children about healthy lifestyles

Ingy Deif, Thursday 27 Mar 2014

Ahram Online talks to nutrition expert about how Egyptian parents can teach their children healthy lifestyle habits

(Photo: Courtesy of Noha Abu Sitta)
With obesity rates in Egypt soaring in recent years, many experts are pointing to ongoing problems in nutrition and eating patterns.
“The eating habits of Egyptians and the way they handle their wellbeing is loaded with myths and misconceptions,” said Noha Abu Sitta, a health educator who teaches nutrition courses and often appears on Egyptian television to give advice on the topic.
She told Ahram Online that she encounters a number of common problems in Egyptian parents’ approach to nutrition.
“First of all comes the issue of skipping breakfast,” she told Ahram Online.

According to Abu Sitta, most Egyptians don’t pay attention to the importance of a large breakfast and the fact that it is the most important meal of the day, as the body regains some basic nutrition after hours of fasting during sleep.
She also cites the problems of lack of exercise, eating large meals late at night – which can lead to problems sleeping and weight gain -- and using sweet or unhealthy food as a reward for children.
Abu Sitta cites the “lean” programme of American nutritionist Dr William Sears as a solution to some of these ills, especially for parents trying to encourage their kids to develop healthy lifestyles.
The lean programme involves four components – lifestyle, exercise, attitude and nutrition.
Lifestyle requires that parents teach their children that healthy diets are not about appearance but about long-term health. Healthy lifestyles need to involve the whole family, not just a single member.
For the exercise component, parents should introduce some regular physical activity for 30 minutes a day, but this must be associated with fun and not presented as a mandatory chore. Parents should take part in the activity, which doesn’t have to be a formal sport but could take the form of any energetic game or form of play that involves physical exertion.
The attitude section requires parents to use positive incentives when dealing with lifestyle issues. Children should be taught to eat well to help them grow and become healthy and strong, not to look a certain way. The idea of different body shapes should also be introduced, so that children are aware that there is a diversity of healthy figures and that beauty comes from being healthy, not from looking a certain way.
Finally, Abu Sitta believes that parents need to make the effort to provide a balanced diet, including 20 to 30 percent protein at each meal, with care taken to avoid oversized portions.
Abu Sitta stresses that “diet” is a word that should not be equivalent to losing or gaining weight, but rather having a healthy and balanced nutrition plan that keeps a person in good health and shape. 
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