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Children, Stress & Weight Management

May 11, 2016 | Blog

By Courtney Price
Project Manager, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Newark

children and stressIt’s a sad fact that chronic stress in childhood makes children vulnerable to becoming obese adolescents and adults.

A study conducted by a Cornell psychologist (and funded in part by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) found that chronic exposure to such stressors as poverty, congested housing and family dysfunction makes it difficult for children to control their behavior and emotions. The inability to self-regulate can lead to weight gain and obesity.

When I meet with teachers and parents in Newark pre-schools to talk about the importance of good nutrition and healthy eating, we discuss the dangers of consuming too much sugar in the form of candy and soda. Sugar consumption is linked to weight gain…and also to stress.

How often do we grab a chocolate bar to feel a little better or calm ourselves down? It may feel good in the moment but it’s not a real way to deal with stress. In fact, sugar will make us more anxious. It’s better to go outside and walk off the stress.

Here are three ways to help our children deal with stress in the classroom and at home:

  • Find a calming activity: the activity can be an art project; maybe as simple as coloring or something more adventurous. The objective is to focus the child on creating and to keep the mind and body engaged.
  • Get physical: walking, biking, playing ball—physical activity is one of the best stress relievers and a way to combat weight gain.
  • Reinforce their accomplishments: we all benefit from encouragement—focus on the good things children are doing and let them know how important their behavior is. No need to reward good behavior with chocolate — positive words add more value.

Children mimic the behavior we model. So it’s important that we handle our stress in positive ways. When things get hairy, take a deep breath, eat an apple or put on some music and dance the stress away.

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