Karl Henry: 'It's not the State's or school's responsibility
It’s that time of year - books, uniforms, sports gear, new shoes and, for many, new classes and even new schools. We are gearing up for the back-to-school rush. The long summer holidays are over and routine and structure will be returning to households all over Ireland.
The family unit is crucial to so much in life, teaching the skills that will give your children the tools for the rest of their lives. This is especially crucial when it comes to health.
Our children are getting heavier, fatter and more unfit. I meet teachers all around the country each year who despair at the weight of the children in their classes. I truly believe the family unit has a crucial role to play here. Only last week I met a family for a consultation who have four takeaways a week, each member ordering from a different restaurant. If your child is overweight, then it’s your responsibility as a parent to change that. Not the State’s and not the school’s — the parent’s.
I know life is busy, tough and time can be at a minimum, but children’s health is setting the foundation for the rest of their lives. If they are healthy and active in school, we know there is an increased chance they will remain fit and active throughout their lives.
In this week’s column, I thought I would provide a simple list of ideas to improve the health of your family and help give them the kick-start they need.
* Fix the issue together: if one person in your family has a weight issue, never isolate them. Aim to work together as a family so you all get healthy together through food and activity.
* Lead by example: if you want your family to be healthier, then guess what, you have to be healthier too. Lecturing children on health is pointless unless you are showing them what they should be doing and eating, taking part and being a team.
* Eat together: research from the USA has shown that families who eat meals together are healthier. So aim to eat your dinner as a family, away from any sort of technology. No Tv or phones and interact as a family.
* Delegate: one of the easiest ways of teaching anyone is by doing. By delegating the meals each week amongst the family, you are asking each family member to prepare and cook at least one meal each per week. These skills are being neglected, but are crucial for lifelong health. Sit down each week as a family and chat through the meals for the week and who is going to cook them, what the ingredients will be and how to make it.
* Pick and mix: the same goes for exercise — why not let each family member to choose a different form of exercise to do every month. Ireland has amazing sports on offer — it’s just a matter of trying them. The more you try as a family, the greater the chance of finding a sport you all will enjoy, the key tool for long-term participation.
* Keep the treat: don’t try to cut out all treat foods. Keep a weekly treat in there to create normality. I remember as a child, every Friday my granddad and myself would walk to the local Italian chipper for fish and chips — a fond memory still. If you don’t keep a sense of balance, you will not create long-term family health.