Nearly one third of children are overweight or obese in Canada and the United States. This suggests that there are approximately 40 million parents caring for overweight or obese children. Knowing how many responsible and loving parents tend to think, I suspect that this means there are tens of millions of parents in North America feeling personally responsible for their children’s over-consumption of calories. It doesn’t help that the media, physicians and scientists have been mercilessly shaming and blaming parents for this of late – No shortage of examples can be found, for example, here, here, here, here, and here.

Let me clear this up as quickly as I can. No! Parents are not to be blamed! The global obesity crisis is only about 20-30 years old and, no doubt, parents are no more or less loving, responsible, and devoted to their children’s health and well being than they were 25 years ago.  Though parents are not to blame, there’s no reason why they can’t step up and be part of the solution.  I often get questions from parents in my nutrition clinic along the lines of “what can we, as parents, do to improve our children’s weight and health?” Of course every child and family in our clinic is working on unique challenges and circumstances, but there is one piece of advice that I share with almost everyone: Keep a Healthy Home. Keeping a healthy home is not only worthwhile for overweight kids and families, it stands to improve the health and well being of any child/family, regardless of weight, shape or size.

Although many environmental factors are leading to health erosion in our communities, a family’s home can be a safe-haven from this. In a healthy home, the cabinets, pantries and refrigerators are filled with high quality foods like fresh/unprocessed fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grain breads/cereals etc. Absent are poor quality ultra-processed foods laden with added salt, sugar and fats. This isn’t to say that families should never eat items such as ice cream, cake, and chocolate, but ideally these are kept out of the daily meal and snack rotations; they are served less often, for special occasions, and ideally out of the home. Keeping a healthy home also means preparing foods ‘from scratch’ and eating together as a family at the family table more often than not. Keeping a healthy home also means limiting screen time, cutting down on sedentary behaviours and jumping on opportunities to be sufficiently physically active. Finally, a home can only be healthy if those living in it feel safe, free from bullying and stigmatization.

Ask yourself what steps, however small, you can take to make your home even the slightest bit healthier?