A new survey of more than 1,500 ParentsCanada readers shows that almost three-quarters consider themselves role models for healthy living for their children. But many face challenges such as cost and lack of time when it comes to being active, eating well and managing a healthy lifestyle.
The survey was done in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of Healthy Me Week, an initiative spearheaded by companies and organizations that communicate with parents and children. Led by Companies Committed to Kids (formerly Concerned Children’s Advertisers), Healthy Me Week aims to give parents and kids the tools they need to be healthy: to Get Up, Fuel Up and Own Up. Read survey responses and reader tips for each HMW pillar below, or visit healthymeweek.com and take our quiz!
Being active as a family is a priority, with 18 percent of families engaged in physical activity together very day. While 43 percent do something together two to four times a week, 8 percent say they can’t find the time to be active as a family.
The most common family activity, at 90 percent, is walking. This is great news, as walking is free, fun and great for all aspects of health. “Being active and walking places as a first option is part of our family lifestyle,” wrote one parent. “Using your own body to get around is a gift of health, and living somewhere that is safe, beautiful and walkable is a gift of privilege. We want our kids to understand both of those things.” Swimming, biking and dance parties were other common responses.
Cost and parents’ busy schedules were the top two barriers to families being physically active. Some parents have found is easier to be active by joining forces with other families. “We plan group activities with our friends who have the same age group of kids with us. They never seem to get tired when their friends are with them hiking, biking, swimming etc.”
Fully three-quarters of respondents say they are looking for free or inexpensive ideas for fun activities. Many offer creative strategies: “I try to play games with them that involve a lot of running, bike riding in the basement in the winter, and in the summer, swimming and camps, soccer and family hiking,” writes one parent. “‘Free’ is the key since there is only one income at the moment and I need ways to keep four kids under the age of six busy, so I don't go nuts either.”
For articles on how to Get Up, click here.
Eating a family meal together has been linked to maintaining healthier weights and better mental health, among other things. Our readers reported 63 percent of families eat together every night, and 25 percent eat dinner together three to five times a week. “We mainly feed him what we eat,” writes one reader. “When he doesn’t want to eat something (mostly anything green) we show him that mommy and daddy do it. When we eat together as a family, even though it’s hectic, it shows him that it’s important.”
While 85 percent said their meals are usually homemade, there are barriers. Parents seem to be stuck on what to make, with 67 percent finding it hard to come up with ideas. Almost half felt they didn’t have enough time to prepare a healthy meal and 35 percent said cost was an issue.
Our readers are experienced in dealing with picky eaters, with 36 percent saying it was a constant struggle. “In this house it's hard,” writes a reader. “All four of my kids are very fussy eaters. Each one has [a protein] he likes or doesn’t like with vegetables and one hates meat. So I have to come up with ways to hide those items so they don't see them, i.e. in meat loaf, zucchini bread.”
Others opt for a more hardline approach: “What we have to eat for supper is all there is and if they don't like it, there are no other choices. So they eat what’s being served,” says one parent.
Simple recipe ideas (72 percent) and ways to save money in the grocery store (57 percent) rank the highest in terms of what parents would find most helpful. “The slow cooker is great on the weekends but we struggle mid-week to cook healthy meals fast on weekdays.”
For articles on how to Fuel Up, click here.
The concept of “owning up” to your health is about being accountable to how much you get up and fuel up. For kids, this translates to screen time, as it is a major contributor to lack of activity and between meal snacking, and it’s something within their control.
Almost half of our respondents’ oldest children spend more than two hours a day on screens (excluding school work). Two hours is the daily maximum for children six and older from the Canadian Paediatric Society. The recommendation for children two to six is no more than one hour, and for children two and under, no screens. “We did no screen time until age two,” says one parent. “So basically, we had to find other ways to entertain them so that using an iPad or TV isn’t the first resort for entertainment.”
One parent suggests “Just engage with your child. Don't just tell them not to watch TV or use the computer, give them other activities and then do those activities with them!”
The reasons why kids frequently get more than the recommended amount of screen time vary, but the most popular response (30 percent) was because parents find it challenging to limit something their child loves. Others note how screens help occupy their children when they want to get something done. “This is our biggest struggle,” writes one reader. “With both parents working demanding jobs, we find it hard to not always be tethered to our devices. We make sure that we have a no device policy in certain areas of the house. We also only allow minimal screen time with our son, when we are there with him, so its also bonding time.”
Most parents (80 percent) have rules for Internet use and 67 percent say their child has no Internet access in their bedroom.
Almost two-thirds of parents say their child gets more than nine hours of sleep each night. A solid routine is key. “We lead by example,” says one parent. “We limit our screen time and are very conscious about not letting it interfere with family time. We have a good night time schedule that allows everyone to wind down together then it’s bedtime."
For articles on how to Own Up, click here.