Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Duchess of York and Healthy Kids

Around the year 2002, I was invited to an event promoting healthy eating habits for children. Besides the four scientists who were reporting on the latest research work, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was going to give us personal tips on how she is improving the eating habits of her children.

A dietetic intern was doing her elective with me at that time, I invited her. She is Cathy Culleton, an intern at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals, having completed her BS degree in California. Much as we enjoy research work, the thought of meeting a celebrity was most exciting. And we weren’t disappointed. Sarah was delightful, natural, charming and funny. I asked Cathy to be my guest reporter on this event, leaving you with even more helpful ideas on keeping your children healthy. This is from Cathy:

Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York, is the U.S. Spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers, together with scientists from the American Health Foundation, aim to give parents the tools they need to instill healthy eating and fitness habits in children. The Duchess is internationally recognized for her work in helping adults attain healthy lifestyles and it was refreshing to hear her campaign for healthy kids! She was very personable and gave anecdotal stories about her strategies of promoting healthy eating and lifestyle habits with her own children, Beatrice age 12 and Eugenie, age 11.

Some stories she shared with us:

• She wanted her children to go outside and play, even though it was drizzling (as it often does in England). Her two girls decided to ride on their ponies. As Sarah wanted to participate, but the ponies were too small for her to ride, she she ran beside them, keeping the family active together.

• From Monday to Friday she sets certain rules like “no fizzy drinks or up the broccoli.” Then on weekends, her girls can feel free to make their own choices.

• She also tries to make meal time a pleasant and even imaginative experience. She pretends that broccoli stems in a baked potato are trees on an island.

As a child, The Duchess said she used food for comfort. Now, as a parent she tries to encourage an open line of communication with her children. If one of her girls has had a bad day at school, they talk about it or take a walk through the garden. She said, the parent must “let the child speak.”

In addition to hearing from The Duchess, scientists reviewed the latest trends in this day and age that relate to kids’ eating habits. Kids are consuming more meals away from home, portion sizes have increased, and there is a rapid increase in the variety and availability of food. One of the researchers said that parents are the most important teachers in children’s lives.

The bottom line: we need a family commitment to healthy eating and exercise.