As any parent knows, raising a healthy child or teenager is no easy task. From struggling with picky eaters (brocolli? eww) to eating healthy on the road, every day comes with its own set of nutritional challenges. Some days, your biggest wins are simply putting breakfast on the table and hopefully getting your kid to school on time. While you can certainly aim to master the morning routine (nourishing breakfast and packed lunch, check), it turns out that what happens on the way to school may have an even bigger impact on your child’s health than you think.
A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health found that a kid’s likelihood to purchase junk food is majorly influenced by their route to and from school. Using GPS technology, lead researcher Dr. Gilliland and his team tracked the daily school routes of 654 students ages nine to 13. Every time a student was within .03 miles (roughly half a block) of a place that served junk food, the GPS made a record. Students were also given diaries in which to list the times they made a junk food purchase.
After two weeks of tracking, the researchers found that exposure to junk food had a significant impact on the students’ likelihood to purchase it — particularly if they were on their way home from school. Maybe that kids would give into temptation seems obvious now, but parents definitely don’t expect their little ones to spend all of their allowance on candy. The study also found that kids who were dropped off at school in a parent’s car versus getting there by biking or walking (woohoo, wellness) were more likely to buy junk food.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that the female students were more likely to purchase junk food than males. While he isn’t exactly sure of the cause, Dr. Gilliland suggests that this may be due to female teens having more money from occasional odd jobs, such as babysitting. That means targeting males and females separately in health campaigns is super important.
So, sure, you can’t always control your neighborhood, but parents have a powerful influence on their children’s eating habits and activity level. Researchers say it’s critical that parents and schools educate kids about making healthier choices when it comes to food. One way to do this is by promoting healthy eating in innovative ways, a strategy Dr. Gilliland is employing with his new smartphone app, SmartAPPetite. While the app is currently only available in Canada, it highlights the importance of helping kids locate healthy dining options.
While this study is NOT suggesting that parents move out to the boonies to escape the temptation of fast food restaurants, it does recommend making healthy eating enjoyable for kids.
3 Ways to Help Your Kids Build Healthy Eating Habits
1. Sign up for healthy food subscription boxes. Thanks to companies like Kidstir and We Cook, you can help your young children embrace their inner chef for less than $20/month. Each company delivers boxes filled with healthy recipes and kid-sized tools that help create healthy habits in the kitchen.
2. Create healthy alternatives. From chickpea pizookies to zucchini french fries, there seems to be no shortage of healthy recipe swaps these days. With a little creativity, you can help your kids eat healthy without them resenting you… err… we mean without them feeling like they’re being totally deprived.
3. Set a good example. As the study showed, parents have a big influence on the way their kids eat. By choosing nutritious snacks, eating balanced meals and enjoying healthy foods, you can inspire your kids to follow your lead. Between work, soccer practice and dance it can be hard to eat fresh foods. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) suggests these healthy eating tips for families on the go.
How do you get your kids and teens to eat healthy? Share your tips @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)