As we work to take small steps to improve our health and well-being, are we taking into account the influence we have on others? As parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, volunteers, and our other roles, are we helping the youth and young parents make changes and establish habits to improve their long-term health and wellbeing?
I always think of examples of how this has played out in my life. As a dietitian, I have always encouraged my children to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet. My son was an athlete who ran a half mile run as part of the track team. I always encouraged him to drink milk, even chocolate milk, after competition as a post workout recovery drink. As a mother, my advice often went unheard, but one day I came home to see my son sitting at the table drinking a glass of milk. Being excited I commented on his change of heart and the happiness that he was following my input. Suddenly he replied by discussing the information that the track coach had shared about the value of drinking chocolate milk and so he was willing to try it. My excitement may have diminished, but the idea is that role models from other influences such as teachers, coaches, volunteers etc… are very important and valuable in the life of our children and youth.
Another example was a preschool education session I observed. The educator was discussing the importance of eating and drinking healthy foods. As the educator was talking the preschool teachers were sneaking a drink of soda pop and had bags of cookies on their desk. What are the students seeing to reinforce the messages being taught? Although no one eats perfectly or is as physically active as they need to be every day, when we are in a position to be observed by younger children or students are we displaying the kind of behaviors we hope those children and youth can learn good long term habits from?
The USDA has a great 10 tips nutrition education handout that is titled, “Be a Healthy Role Model for Children”. The ten tips are great ideas for all of us to keep in mind as we go through our daily routines and possibility influence others.
These tips are:
• Show by example— eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains when youth are watching you.
• Go food shopping together—let your children make healthy choices.
• Get creative in the kitchen—cut food into fun shapes or name a food after your child.
• Offer the same foods for every one—stop being a short order cook.
• Reward with attention, not food—everyone likes a hug.
• Focus on each other at the table—turn off the television and take calls after the meal is over.
• Listen to your child—offer your child a choice between two vegetables.
• Limit screen time—limit screen time to 2 hours and day and get up and move during the commercials.
• Encourage physical activity—make physical activity fun for the whole family.
• Be a good food role model—try new foods yourself.
Check out this tip sheet and others at the ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Consider putting this and others on the refrigerator for quick reminders of how easy being a good role model can be. With little effort you can make a big difference in someone else’s life!
University of Texas at Austin, (2011). Chocolate Milk Gives Athletes a Leg Up after Exercise Says University of Texas Austin Study.
Writer: Liz Smith, M.S., RDN., L.D., NE Program Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewer: Michelle Treber, M.A., L.D., Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Pickaway County, Treber.email@example.com