Youth Day is an official public holiday where South Africans commemorate the Soweto Uprising, which occurred on 16 June 1976. This year, at The Noakes Foundation we would like to highlight the importance of children and youth’s wellbeing and health for a better and healthier future for South Africa and worldwide.
Children are constantly exposed to new experiences that shape their outlook on their future lifestyles. Children are influenced by their surroundings, and exposing children to healthy habits during their formative years can have long lasting effects on physical and mental development, nutritional health, and success in life. Parents play a crucial role in a child’s development. Children rely on their parents for their food choices and dietary habits. Parents’ healthy eating habits most likely would influence their children to adopt healthy dietary habits that will persist through adolescence and early young adulthood. Family meals have been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, disordered eating behaviors, and a better relationship with food.
Family meals foster a safe place where children are able to express their emotions and share important details of their daily lives. Parents can utilize this moment to teach their children healthy communication without distractions, eliminating the usage of smart technology. Children are able to adopt active listening skills, expand on their vocabulary skills, and most importantly the ability to engage in discussions. According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, children that often have family meals are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or the use of illicit drugs. CASA states that teens who have frequent family meals are more likely to get better grades and do better in school. Moreover, better grades are linked with a lower risk of substance abuse.
Frequent family meals are associated with positive dietary habits such as higher intake of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and lower consumption of fast food and soft drinks. According to a meta-analysis study conducted by Dallacker et al. 2018, the number of family meals is negatively correlated with ready-made dinners. The explanation of this nutritional pattern is due to the composition of the food to which the children are exposed during family meals. In another study by Videon and Manning 2003, the authors concluded that during family meals is where parents are able to provide healthy eating choices and be an example of healthy eating.
Children should consume a variety of foods from seasonal vegetables and fruits, healthy sources of animal protein, healthy fats, and dairy products. Children need to consume foods high in protein so their bodies can grow and function properly. Fats are a concentrated source of energy and provide essential fatty acids that are needed for bodily processes such as metabolism, blood clotting, and vitamin absorption. Sugar intake in children’s diet should be limited to low levels since it provides plenty of calories, often known as “empty calories”, because it contains little nutritional value. Children eating high amounts of sugar will often displace healthier foods, but on the other hand, consuming nutritious meals will allow their body to reach its full potential. In addition, family meals should be a place where children are able to adopt life skills–cooking. Cooking may help people to make healthier food choices throughout their lives. Cooking should be a shared experience, therefore, assigning children a role can help them appreciate and learn healthy habits .
Childhood stunting is a prevalent issue in many isolated and poverty-stricken communities around the world. Eat Better South Africa (EBSA) is a community-based non-profit organization that is designed to improve the nutritional education of local community members in South Africa. With the help of advocacy, activism, and the implementation of nutrition education programs, EBSA allows community members to make informed decisions on better eating habits. EBSA provides knowledge on how to live better by changing the way people eat by reducing the overconsumption of sugar, refined vegetables oils and carbohydrates, and processed foods; while encouraging the consumption of affordable sources of vegetables, fish, meats, and healthy fats.
In conclusion, family meals play a vital role in children’s development and nutritional health. As the world continues to move at a fast pace, it is important to strive for a healthier lifestyle that is feasible and sustainable for the future generation. Exposing children to healthy eating and teaching them how to navigate the kitchen will allow them to carry these skills into adulthood, promoting healthy adult lives.
Admin. (2023). Childhood Stunting and the Posterior Development Outcomes: A Pilot Study on Childhood Stunting in Isolated, rural, and poverty-stricken communities. – The Noakes Foundation. The Noakes Foundation. Available online: https://thenoakesfoundation.org/news/childhood-stunting-and-the-posterior-development-outcomes-a-pilot-study-on-childhood-stunting-in-isolated-rural-and-poverty-stricken-communities
Dallacker, Hertwig, R., & Mata, J. (2018). The frequency of family meals and nutritional health in children: a meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews, 19(5), 638–653. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12659
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Li, P. (2023). Formative Years – Why Are They Important In Child Development. Parenting for Brain. Available online: https://www.parentingforbrain.com/formative-years/#:~:text=What%20Are%20The%20Formative%20Years,development%2C%20and%20success%20in%20life.
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About the author- Catherine Vasquez
Catherine Vasquez is a fourth-year student at the University of Florida, studying Nutritional Sciences and Food Science. She is interested in pursuing a career in dentistry. She is currently interning with The Noakes Foundation, learning about public health in Cape Town, South Africa and the nutritional approach to chronic disease in under-resourced communities, such as Du Noon and Gugulethu, led by Eat Better South Africa. Catherine is interested in oral and nutritional health. She hopes to gain a better understanding of the bidirectional relationship between oral health and diet and nutrition to educate her patients on building healthy dietary habits and oral hygiene routines.