Some of the top health concerns facing children in the UK include being overweight or obese, having asthma, having poorly managed diabetes, and experiencing mental health problems, as found in a report by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). Rates of these problems are higher in economically deprived areas, with Professor N. Modi, president of the RCPCH, stating that “Poor health in infancy, childhood, and young adult life will ultimately mean poor adult health, and this in turn will mean a blighted life and poor economic productivity”. How can parents do their share to encourage their children to value good physical and mental health and to make disease prevention a part of daily living?
Studies have shown that many homes contain higher levels of toxins than the air outside and the culprits are the many items we bring into our homes - including toxic cleaning products, pressed wood furniture and décor pieces, and soft furnishings like sofas which can contain formaldehyde/flame retardants. Children learn by example; from the very start, they can observe their parents making DIY surface cleaners (or using powerful oil blends like Thieves), using a steam vacuum instead of bleach to clean, and ventilating homes frequently to let toxins escape from the inner abode.
Natural, baby-safe cleaning products for toys, meanwhile, should be adopted instead of bleach, ammonia, and other harsh products. Babies and toddlers are famed for sticking toys in their mouths but some of the chemicals they may ingest can cause everything from allergies to poisoning and eye damage. Spray cleaners should also be avoided in terms of simple bottles with baby-proof opening systems.
Embracing a Healthy Diet
When it comes to diets, scientists have spoken loud and clear: both Mediterranean and plant-based diets can help adults and kids build a healthy gut microbiome, which is key to good physical and mental health. To get kids interested in eating healthily, get them involved in two key aspects: shopping at the market and cooking up healthy, colourful, seasonal meals. Take them out to great vegan restaurants nearby and try to emulate dishes such as plant-based burgers, hearty Thai salads, and lean proteins prepared simply upon a grill and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon. Parents can plan Saturday or Sunday cooking sessions that everyone can take part in together, with kids selecting the recipes they’d like to try out from YouTube, Instagram, or any other social media likes they enjoy browsing.
Keeping it Active
Children’s activity levels are very much dependent on those of their parents so from the start, it is important to make sports and other physically challenging activities a part of daily life. In addition to learning standard curriculum sports, children can continue to stay active if parents plan family activities in the Great Outdoors. These can include rowing, swimming, stand-up paddling, surfing, mountain trekking, mountain biking, and indeed any activity that can get their hearts racing while they build a strong bond with nature.
Remember to boost their mental health by teaching them mindfulness activities from a young age - try out yoga, mindfulness meditation, or even ‘forest bathing’. The latter involves little more than visiting a beautiful forest or green area and stimulating the senses of sight, sound, touch, and (in some cases) taste through the beauty your children can encounter around them. Exercise in nature burns more calories, is more fun, and also more motivating, so ensuring your kids enjoy time outside is a good way to ensure they have a healthy balance between technology use and exercise.
Encouraging your children to be healthy begins, to a great extent, with the example you give. By prioritising good air quality (and showing children the importance of opening windows and cleaning with natural products), you can highlight the importance of ensuring that home is a true haven. Healthy diets can be fostered by including children in food sourcing and preparation. Finally, activity levels can be raised by ensuring the whole family exercises outside, taking part in a blend of traditional and holistic activities.
Written by Jennifer Dawson